Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 552
As a fledgling hawk, Hook is matter-of-factly pushed from the nest by his parents during one of the recurring droughts common to the semi-arid terrain of the central California coast. Preoccupied with their own survival, his parents abandon him to the sand and brush along the dry river bed. As hunger takes precedence over parental and reproductive urges, the father and mother go their separate ways to course about the dry hillsides looking for prey, leaving their undeveloped fledgling to his fate. Still partially covered with down, lacking flight feathers, thin and inept at hunting for food, Hook is a creature of hunger and fear. Unable to fly, he struggles for existence in a dangerous and disinterested world. Hiding in the brush, feeding on insects and the small fish left by the receding water of the river, Hook manages to survive. Only the infuriating sound of the seagulls crying in the sky above him intrudes into Hook’s truncated existence. The seagulls at easy play in the sky contrast starkly with the undeveloped hawk frantically scuttling about in a desiccated world of dead or dying things.
During one of his forays for food, Hook kills a small mouse. The taste of blood awakens the first of his primordial drives, the instinct to hunt. When he makes his first successful flight, striking a ground squirrel large enough to wound Hook in its struggle for life, Hook becomes a hawk. His entry into the mature world of the predator gives him a wild delight. Hook senses that his world is a great arena for killing.
Having learned to fly, Hook becomes master of the valley and the hills of grass that nourish his prey. He drives the weaponless gulls back to the seashore and turns away challenges from his own kind. His maturity is complete when he consummates a violent courtship, establishing a brood of his own. Nothing disturbs that completeness save a Japanese farmer in the valley below. Only the farmer causes Hook to veer away in the flights across his domain.
Because the farmer suspects that the hawk takes his chickens, he carefully watches the patterns of its flight, waiting for the opportunity to kill Hook with his shotgun. One of Hook’s flights carries him within range of the farmer’s shotgun, and he is brought to the ground, badly crippled, fierce with fear. The broken-winged hawk, no longer able to hunt, must return to scrabbling for bugs and lizards in the dust and dirt. Hook’s existence becomes abject. When the seagulls discover that Hook is a helpless creature of the ground, they catch him in the open and peck out an eye, but his remaining eye burns with rage. Now suffering from starvation, unable to catch and kill wild creatures, Hook raids the farmer’s chicken coop, killing the helpless birds in a mad frenzy. Awakened by the noise of the terrified and dying chickens, the farmer and his dog find the crippled hawk in the yard. The dog attacks Hook but is driven off by the hawk’s sharp talons and beak. Urged on by the farmer, the dog attacks again and again, finally breaking the hawk’s neck. The farmer’s wife, witness to the spectacle of death, pronounces an ironically banal epitaph: “Oh, the brave bird.”