Death as a New Beginning: The Art of Possibility

One of the side effects of humans and wild animals sharing the same environment is the often inevitable collision between vehicles and animals. I have personally run into two deer. One of those encounters almost totalled my car and killed the deer. I still cringe when I remember the thumping sound of hitting something and the sense of guilt and complete helplessness when I realized what had happened.
Over the years, I have seen almost any kind of roadkill one can imagine living in these wild mountainous parts of Appalachia: squirrels, racoons, possums, red fox, deer (always deer), scavenger birds that get hit while feasting on other roadkill carcasses such as vultures, hawks, owls, even a bald eagle. I’ve heard of motorcyclists hitting cattle on the road… but that’s another story altogether.
There are a number of “Roadkill Festivals” in the area which feature any kind of meat imaginable (bear, snake, racoon, squirrel, turtle, etc), even some that is verifiably not local (alligator). I was told that the food cannot come from actual roadkill due to food safety concerns. I know, the vegetarians and vegans among you may just decide this post is no longer tolerable….but hang on…

This post is actually dedicated to a beautiful hawk I found lying by the side of a road. It was hit by a vehicle while it was feeding on a possum carcass. I stopped my car and walked up to it. It was stiff and very dead, so I took it home to take pictures. And, I also had additional plans for this bird that I’ll talk about later.

road kill hawk

head and beak

You can see remnants of the bird’s last meal.

The usual occupants of our porch, semi-feral cats, were rather suspicious of this large bird:

suspicious cat

I consulted with a local bird expert and he thought that this bird may be a juvenile red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). The red tails are very common in our area, and spend the winter here. Mature birds have beautiful, rusty red tail feathers (hence the name, red tailed). This one had not earned his colors yet. These hawks are 19-25 inches (48 – 63 cm) tall. Their white breasts are streaked bandlike with brown spots.

plumage detail

The talons are long and curved and look very intimidating:


I heard from someone who works at a Wild Bird Refuge Center that hawks have so much grasping power in their talons that they could crush the bones in your hand. That’s why people working with birds know to put on very thick and highly protective leather gloves. For a view of beautiful hawks and the glove needed to work with them, see Cindy Knoke’s post on a magnificent, if unusually colored, red-tail hawk.

When I find dead birds that are still in decent shape, I usually take them to a local woman, Judy Skeen, who creates beautiful sketches and paintings of birds and other animals. She keeps the birds in her freezer until she finds time to paint them and then resurrects them as if they were still alive. Here are some examples of her bird sketches (unfortunately, her painting of MY hawk was recently donated to support a local wildlife center and I don’t have a photo of it).

Judy who is absolutely not interested in computers or blogs gave me permission to photograph these sketches and include them in this blog post:

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If I was a hawk who had to die prematurely as a roadkill, I probably wouldn’t mind ending up in Judy’s hands. Being eternalized on art paper and finding a place of honor on someone’s wall, or flying around in the blogosphere like this is not the same as being alive and lifting high up into the air currents but it beats the ditch by the side of the road.

This post was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning AND Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Possibility.

About Beauty Along the Road

A blog about discovering beauty in all its ordinary and extraordinary manifestations.
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58 Responses to Death as a New Beginning: The Art of Possibility

  1. Beauty, these are incredible photos, especially the remnants of the last meal in its beak. We grew up in PA and we had close encounters with many deer. Fortunately, we never hit one..thank goodness you weren’t hurt!…but on our drives from Wheeling to Pittsburgh to visit family, we count the number of dead deer along interstate 79. The record so far is 81. Amazing.


  2. Barneysday says:

    We see an inordinate number of hawks who’ve been killed on the road. It seems more of them than the crows, coyotes or vultures that dine on other roadkill. I don’t know if the birds are too slow in takeoff to escape, or they don’t see the risk coming. But it is sad to see such interesting birds ending up this way.

    Great post, and thanks for sharing it. Glad I’m not alone.


    • That’s an interesting observation, Barney. I have no idea why more hawks would be killed…. maybe they are slower in taking off than other birds of prey? I have seen vultures lift off almost in slow motion and just avoid getting hit by cars. Maybe the vultures have more experience than hawks in feasting on roadkill and assessing the cars coming at them?


  3. Leya says:

    Great post – what luck having someone who can draw them beautifully, make them live on, those beautiful birds.


    • Within a few minutes of this post appearing on my Facebook page, a FB friend included her own picture by the same artist. Locally, Judy Skeen is very much appreciated for how she honors these birds through her paintings.


  4. Ann Koplow says:

    I got a lot out of this post. Thank you!


  5. cindy knoke says:

    fascinating & beautiful!


  6. So sad to witness the death of such a young and beautiful bird……I find the shot where we see into its eyes and the remnant of its meal still in its beak very moving. Poor dear bird sacrificed to the god of cars and highways….


  7. What a wonderful idea, to immortalise these poor dead birds in such a lovely way. Judy does such a marvelous job.


  8. jamborobyn says:

    It’s very sad to see, I know it’s beautiful, but it’s so so sad to me.


  9. Carol says:

    We see mostly the carcasses of skunks, raccoons and marmots on our roads, but in the spring the deer carcasses appear – seeing one always makes me want to weep.

    Sent from my iPad



  10. Very interesting post and photos as well as a lovely bit of art. I think one of the problems with deer is that there are so few natural predators anymore. A deer can do serious damage to a vehicle! I’ve been driving some long distances lately and haven’t seen too much roadkill, which is nice. The saddest thing I’ve seen recently was a beautiful hawk gliding across a many-lane highway and then hitting the side of a truck that suddenly drove into its path. It brought tears to my eyes.



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  12. Bams Triwoko says:

    Great captured… so original… 🙂


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  14. I, too, have seen far too much roadkill in my life. It is bittersweet and beautiful that a beautiful sketch may one day emerge from this creature’s end.


  15. mpejovic says:

    Wow, what an interesting post, and a bittersweet end for this beautiful hawk. We have a lot of red tailed hawks in San Diego, along with tons of other birds, of course. People hit mule deer here mostly when a new road is built that interferes with the deer’s natural path. Eventually, all the deer that used to take that path die so the deer that didn’t know about it go another way and are safe. Deer are pretty stubborn that way, that’s why they get killed a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever killed an animal with my car but I’ve seen tons of roadkill here, including cats and dogs, birds, squirrels, skunks, racoons and coyotes. It’s a wild world out there.


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  17. Beautiful pictures of a sad occasion.


  18. artofearth says:

    Beautiful and sad. The first lodge I ever attended, there was a lady from Massachusetts who stopped and collected animal victims of cars, primarily birds, and she used them to make art that had a sculptural aspect to it. I cannot recall her name, but the photos she shared were beautiful and honored the departed. The author Barry Lopez in “Apologia” recounts his collecting roadkill to give them a fitting burial. My boyfriend and I did this two winters ago when we found a recently killed fox, along the main street in our community. The blood was still fresh. We collected the fox and brought her (I assume it was a female) to our small patch of woods, found a holly tree, brushed aside the leaves and scant snow, placed her there and covered her. Like others, I, too, am always sad to see roadkilled animals. It is a reminder to me that we move much too fast and that I need to slow down, get out the car as much as I can.


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  21. So very sad to see such a beautiful bird brought down by the roads 😦 I’m a firm believer that lost lives should never be wasted! I’m glad that there are artists creating beautiful memorials and anatomical studies of roadkill and I think it’s great that countries where there is a lot of animal death on the roads that people gather to eat the meat that is not scavenged by other wildlife. I feel that that somehow honours the animals whose lives were lost. Thanks for such an interesting post!


  22. A well written and documented essay. You’ve taken a small cycle of life and joined it with the net of twenty-first century communications. Great research, photography, and the joy of those who are quite happy and productive, as your artist friend is, while not plugged into, often bloated technology. I’m happy to have found another enjoyable blog to land on.


  23. Tina Schell says:

    Wow Annette, Amazing that you stopped not only to retrieve the bird but to photograph and then memorialize it. What a lovely tribute. And I’m with you on the deer – it’s crazy how often they collide with the cars, and so sad!


    • I so love watching these birds in their natural environment, it’s always a shock to find some of them on the road. I feel the least I can do is notice, pay attention and pay some kind of a small tribute like this post.


  24. lollastewart says:

    Another beautiful insight into your life in rural America, Annette. Wonderful photos. thank you Lolla

    >________________________________ > From: The Beauty Along the Road >To: >Sent: Saturday, 4 January 2014 8:17 AM >Subject: [New post] Death as a New Beginning: The Art of Possibility > > > > >Beauty Along the Road posted: “One of the side effects of humans and wild animals sharing the same environment is the often inevitable collision between vehicles and animals. I have personally run into two deer. One of those encounters almost totalled my car and killed the deer. I sti” >


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  28. brucethomasw says:

    Brings a new meaning to beauty along the road.


  29. elspethc says:

    I did enjoy reading this post and am inspired – last week a friend and I stopped the car to pick up a dead dovekie (a small seabird) which had maybe been blown inland. I never thought to take photos of its beautiful wing shades and webbed feet – will next time.


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