November 3, 2012
What's Up with this Sharpie?
The past couple Autumns, we've had a Sharp-shinned Hawk show up in the backyard looking for some meals being our song birds.
Not sure what it is, but we get some real characters with some of the wildlife that visits us. Look at Pierre, the prime example! And this Hawk is very different than any other Hawk I've ever encountered in my days (so far).
Let's go back to my first notice of this guy in the fall of 2011...
I am out back one mild October morning, raking the leaves. I have Meadow outside with me on her leash/harness and she's doing her thing, smelling everything, watching the birds and Squirrels, etc. I catch out of the corner of my eye, a small Hawk swoop down on Meadow from the trees behind the house. I just froze as I watched him come down at her, talons out, like he was ready to "take her down". Last second, the Hawk veers up over Meadow and lands in the neighbour's yard. Meadow was completely oblivious to what was going on as she was looking the other way. He then does a turn around and begins to "chirp" at Meadow, staring her down. Now he has Meadow's attention. And Meadow being a cat, the Hawk a bird, Meadow is now all bug eyed with excitement looking at this Hawk. The Hawk then takes another shot at Meadow, and silly me, is still standing in the same spot watching this again. I guess I was in awe and shock. Never did I think of the consequences if this Hawk and Meadow made a connection. He couldn't kill her, he's far too small of a Hawk species, being a tad larger than a Blue Jay. But those talons could really do a number on her. And on the other end, if Meadow caught him, she'd do some damage to him in return but would probably face his talons during the action.
So the Hawk comes down on her again, and same as last time, he veers up last second. And from there, he comes to a branch not far above my head and starts "chirping" at me. Now Hawks really don't chirp but that is how I can best describe the sounds that were coming from him.
I know he wasn't trying to make a meal of Meadow but he really wanted her out of his hunting ground, plain and simple. I took the hint, not wanting them to connect in any physical way, and put Meadow inside. The Hawk remained outside while I worked in the yard. He sat and preened and watched the world around him.
He spent a good part of the winter out back. Not everyday but often enough. I only ever saw him with one take down, being a Mourning Dove. Obviously he got more than just that Dove. He would have starved to death for one. And would surely have moved on if the hunting was that unsuccessful. He came up a number of times as I browsed my final data report sheets for "Project Feeder Watch".
And just like clockwork he has made a return. No interacting with Meadow so far (weather hasn't been favorable for our Princess). But he and I have spent a number of moments together out back in the past week. Nothing shy about this guy and me. He sits in the trees and does his thing, paying little attention to me. The other day he swooped down after some Sparrows while I was out there, and then landed on the "Outhouse" birdhouse which was maybe 10 feet from where I was standing. I had my camera but he was too close for a shot.
Another day, he's out in the tree for quite some time. And eventually the birds started coming around again, forgetting he was there, thinking he left perhaps. And in came the Pigeons too. He made a slight move and everyone got spooked and hightailed it out of there. All the little birds took quick cover in the cedars and I watched the Pigeons race up over the house next door. One miscalculated and crashed right into their second floor bedroom window. What a sound that was! And I watched the bird spiral down to the ground, hitting it hard. The Hawk had flown to another tree, still looking for the smaller birds. Pigeons are too big for a Sharp-shin really.
I watched the Pigeon briefly. He was quite stunned. He stumbled around a bit, and reminded me of the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons after one of his traps backfires on him. He was just that wobbly. He stumbled up the path between the houses. I ran around front and watched him as he kept going towards the street. I should have video'd him, he appeared drunk. I scooped him up and brought him to the back again, putting him under the table on the deck to hide out and get his bearings. Seems he figured that one out and sat for a number of minutes. After which, he strolls out on the deck, and makes a short flight to the grass behind the house. By this time, the Hawk, who is in front of me is now taking notice to this Pigeon. And he goes for it! I caught this with the camera as he did.
The Pigeon has had enough time to clear his head since the impact some minutes earlier; but the Hawk is on top of him now. And there is a brief but violent thrashing fight between these two birds. The Hawk is trying to take this Pigeon down! And the Pigeon is struggling to get away. I figure with his size actually working for him here, the Pigeon does get away, not before the two end up between the houses, still fighting a bit longer.
The Hawk returns to the tree above the swing. He "chirps" at me a bit and then goes back to the business of watching out for his next opportunity with something else feathery.
A few days later, with sightings in between; I get up late one morning, have a look out back as I normally do when the coffee is on, and I can see him way at the back eating something. Of course I step outside to investigate. With the bigger Hawks, I make it a rule to leave them be outside, undisturbed, while they eat. Why? One day curiosity got the best of me and I went for a closer look and hopefully get a photo with the point/shoot camera; and spooked the Hawk (Red-tailed), having it fly away and leaving it's kill on the ground and did not come back for it after I went inside. I felt really bad about that. The hungry Hawk expelled this energy on a cold winter's day, got a meal in way of killing another living creature and in the end the Hawk did not eat, and the other animal's death in turn was a waste. So, after that, I leave them be, and try to capture whatever I can from the kitchen window and maybe sneaking up the side of the house for a cleaner shot when they have just about finished consuming their prey. But this little Sharpie, seems I don't need to worry about such things. And this day, he proved it to me.
He flew right up over my head, parading his kill! I am not entirely sure what this is, but most certain it's a bird.
This shot, notice the bird's foot sticking out of his mouth?
I was convinced this bird is a Downy Woodpecker just by the black and white feathers, the pattern seemed to be that of what I see on a Woodpecker's back. But a new "birding" friend Angie and I have made pointed out the toes on this foot do not match those of a Downy Woodpecker. And in her exact words, hope you don't mind this Kellie...
"Yanno, I've been thinking of 'the foot photo', and it just doesn't seem right for a Downy Woodpecker. They have a zygodactyl toe arrangement (two toes to the front, two toes to the rear), but the photo shows an anisodactyl arrangement (three toes to the front, one toe to the rear). Also, it doesn't look like it's the right colour. I think a Downy's foot is dark with greyish scaling, but the foot in your photo appeared solid black. Just some thoughts.. chickadees have black feet and are anisodactyl. What others species are visiting your feeders that have black feet?"
All I could do was run off a list of the birds that have been around the past week as I have never paid attention to such a detail on them. And she then overwhelmed and impressed me with this information...
"Well, I have to say that I pay particular attention to bird feet, legs, etc., because of being owned by a parrot. Leg and foot colour is one way to tell approximate age in some species. All parrots show zygodactyly as an adaptation to life as climbers. Your budgies should actually show zygodactyly, too, since they're in the parrot family. It especially bothered me in "Rio" that they got the toes so horribly wrong, just because the movie had gotten so much of the other parrot behaviour fairly spot-on... anyway, I digress. Woodpeckers are about the only non-parrots that show this. Some owls can shift a toe back and forth from aniso to zygo, and I have read in some old books that Rough-legged Hawks can do the same, due to their relatively weak and small feet, but that's about it. It might explain why I love woodpeckers so much, too...
Let's see... juncos have pink legs and feet. Grackles: black legs/feet, but no white feathers. House Sparrows: not sure on legs/feet colour, but wrong feather colour. House Finches: ditto. Blue Jay: I think you'd notice some blue feathers, though they do have black legs/feet. Cardinal: again, I think you'd notice more red or brown, and they don't have any white feathers. Starling: black legs/feet, not enough white in the feathers. Chickadees: have a lot of white plus grey-ish down, and some black feathers on the back and head, plus black legs/feet. Red nutty: grey to black feet/legs, but I don't think there's enough white feathers. Pine Siskin: grey legs/feet. Dove: bright pink feet. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers: dark grey feet/legs, with plenty of black and white feathers. Hmm... not sure if this helps! I'm still thinking chickadee, although I could be wrong! Those toes just really got me thinking... Thanks for the nice compliment, btw. :D"
Its great for us to be meeting more people in the "birding" world now. We all can learn from each other. And she's given me something to think about when viewing birds, not just looking at their plumage if I have the opportunity. I know I will be looking more closely at the visiting Woodpeckers here.
So, maybe it is a Chickadee he got? Bugs me a bit since it may be one of the ones that was born here out of the few nests they had. But a Hawk must eat too! I only wish he'd pick off the numerous Sparrows and Starlings instead of the less numbered special birds we have visiting.
After his meal, he gave me a bit of a show on cleaning up after lunch.
He's around almost daily. And it's spectacular to watch him on the hunt. Such agility! Even days I don't see him, it's easy to know he's out there by the inactivity at the feeders and not needing to fill them again during the day.
As I putter about, he just sits wherever and does his thing...
Its been a really bad week as we've had steady cloud cover and lots of rain with that slow moving "Sandy" storm. Taking pics out back has been a challenge. This shot is blown to hell but looks kinda cool anyways.
I hope you enjoyed this blog, as long as it was, with the stories I shared. I know my friends sure do when I tell them.
See yas next time!