After a wonderful near full day at the Royal Botanical Gardens with the annual general meeting for the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society on Saturday March 22, we decided to spend Sunday at home with our critter family. It would give me many hours of backyard bird watching for "Project Feeder Watch". I had high hopes of great sightings since late Saturday we had 15 Common Grackles, 8 Red-winged Blackbirds and 2 American Robins which were welcomed additions to my normally less than 10 species to count during my count days.
The morning started out slow, a few Dark-eyed Juncos linger with us, not quite ready to fly north for nesting just yet. House Sparrows come popping out of the discarded Christmas tree along the fence line. One female Downy Woodpecker is at a suet feeder. And as I am quite used to this winter, the birds suddenly take off, and if a Downy Woodpecker is present, their option is to cling to the Lilac tree and sit still.
I scan the trees out back with the bins and locate our over wintering Sharp-shinned Hawk I've named "Shirley". In previous winters, this Hawk is gone by this time of March, headed off to wherever she may nest and not seen again until mid-October. This is her third winter with us. As I've said in a previous blog, I have no doubt this is the same Hawk because of the personality with this bird. She's very bold compared to any other bird of prey I've encountered out back. She parades her kills to me, she vocalizes to me some days, and very little spooks her from the yard except larger Hawks. I watched a Cooper's Hawk attack her in the apple trees one morning and ran her butt out of here. Of course as soon as the much larger Hawk saw me, it took off as well. Anyways...
Yep, there's Shirley up there in the tree, and she had that demeanor about her this morning that she was hungry. It was -19c with the winds, she needed to eat. I don't interfere with the Hawks like I used to in my early days of backyard birding, they play an important role out there weeding out the flocks. That old saying "survival of the fittest" is so true in the wild. Example... A Sharp-shinned Hawk a few years back caught a female House Finch at one of our feeders who was suffering from that terrible eye disease they can get. It was heart breaking to watch this little Finch with her eyes almost completely crusted over try and land on a bird feeder. Having a Hawk put her out of her misery was a blessing compared to eventually going completely blind and starving to death. I have a photo of the Finch somewhere, may have to try and find it before I publish this.
Of course I don't want any birds to get on the menu for another bird, but it's the way of the wild world. I always put my dibs on Starlings and House Sparrows over the couple Downy Woodpeckers or Northern Cardinals we have visiting us. So far it works out that way, having sometimes 30 or 40 of one species here compared to 1 or 2 of another.
I step outside for a better look at her. I haven't seen much of her the past month or more.
I walk to the back of the yard, looking for another angle, but with the position of the sun... nothing good for a photo.
Now with any other Hawk (so far), I would not be able to step outside, let alone walk the length of the yard and back, passing under the bird, and have it not fly away. Shirley barely takes notice to me and my doings.
I felt bad for the frozen Downy Woodpecker in the Lilacs but knew she was safe as long as she didn't move. I said "good luck" to both birds and went back inside.
Having a second cup of coffee now, still watching from the window, I see Shirley leave her perch, ignore the Downy in the Lilac and dive into the cedars next door. Sparrows are bursting out of the cluster of trees in every direction, a few Red-wings as well. I had an errand to run so I left them all to whatever was going on. I did see Mrs Downy finally make her escape as well.
Some 5 hours later, I decided to go outside and look for birds to practice flight shots on since I have a birds of prey photo shoot coming up in a couple weeks. A few people have given me some tips on settings for the camera that I want to try out. As I step outside all I can hear is Black-capped Chickadees freaking out. Well this is interesting because I've not seen/heard a Chickadee out back in over a month. I located 3 of them nattering away and bouncing from branch to branch at the back.
A little closer inspection, I find Shirley under the canopy of cedars that is right along our back fence line. She's up on her prep block as I call it. Someone years ago cut down one of the cedars and it's now a 12 foot high stump. Shirley uses this spot quite often after she catches a meal. She's plucking away quite happily at this bird in her talons. I suspect House Sparrow due to the size of it but maybe a Starling because the yellow legs seems rather long for a Sparrow. It's so hard to tell when they are in this state. I looked for primary feathers on the ground but couldn't spot any from where I stood, but lots of fluffy grey ones blowing around now as she kept plucking away.
I watched her for a bit, I took a bunch of photos. I left and got the smaller camera in hopes to video some of the action, which I did and you can view it here. I should have brought out the tripod and captured something clearer than this. I hope you don't get "sea sick" from the motion. And then I took some more photos.
After that last photo, I let her be to finish her meal. I took it as "the look".
And as she filled her belly and went for a nap, the other birds calmed down, and those darn little Chickadees left the scene again.
Not everyone likes a Hawk in their backyard but for a bird watcher, nature lover, it's great. Who needs television? A guy I work with asks me if I saw this or that on one of them wildlife channels and I always say "no" because I'm too busy experiencing what is out our backdoor to turn the tv on (and we don't get the channel anyway).
In recent weeks we've had some other birds of prey come for a visit. This one, a Merlin, was pretty spectacular and a first time ever reported for our home species list. He swooped in, scared the crap out of all the birds, and brought out a whack of screaming Blue Jays after him. The Merlin just sat there for a good 20 minutes on the neighbour's old tv tower, watching the birds, preened and then went off after something else.
A Cooper's Hawk comes around every now and then as I mentioned above. It's chasing Pigeons and drives Shirley out of here. We watched it a few weeks ago sit on the fence and look over the Christmas tree we have layed out back. The Hawk walked the fence rail, back and forth, looking for an opening or sight of a meal within. It then flew over to our Holly bush, landed on the ground and walked around the bush, trying to spot something in there as well. It finally took a dash into the Holly, hoping to flush something, but unfortunately for the Hawk, no birds were hiding within. He should have done that with the Christmas tree. It blows my mind how many little birds surface from it some mornings (Juncos and House Sparrows).
And the pair of Red-tails who have been in courtship recently can be seen working together on the Pigeons. One bird will fly in and flush the Pigeons, sometimes just taking it slow and easy it seems, and as the Pigeons scatter, the other bird swoops in and gives chase. It's pretty kick ass to watch although I dread to think it could be Pierre or one of my other friends.
You gotta accept that lots may come to you with a few bird feeders. You cannot pick and choose your species like some wish they could. Embrace the wild natural world and being able to see things with your own eyes as you breathe in the outside air. What are ya waiting for?