Sometimes our bird feeders attract unintentional visitors. I’m not talking about mammals like deer, bear or squirrels. I’m talking about birds that are looking for food but not the wild bird seed variety. These birds – hawks – are looking for other birds for their meal.
My husband and I were sitting on our deck enjoying the warm spring sunshine and watching all the activity in the trees and around our bird feeders. There were lots of Black-capped Chickadees, Common Redpolls, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches when all of a sudden our attention was drawn to the upper branches of a red pine. It was hard to tell what we were seeing at first, but then the disturbance resolved itself into the form of a Sharp-shinned Hawk (commonly called “Sharpie” by birders).
It flew down and landed on a branch of a small green ash tree only 20 feet away from us. It sat there looking around, but there was not a single small bird to be found within a radius of 75 feet. Sharp-shinned hawks belong to the group known as Accipiter’s. They are generally smaller with long tails and shorter, rounded wings. This physical shape allows them to fly into trees and maneuver quickly as they chase smaller birds.
The other two Accipiters are the Coopers Hawk and the Northern Goshawk. The Sharp-shinned is the smallest, measuring 10-14 inches in length, with a 20-28” wingspan. The tail is banded and square at the end. The dark brown wings and head with a yellow eye (adults have red eyes) identified it as a Juvenile. As such it is not surprising that its hunting foray in our yard did not end with a bird in its talons.
I was happy on the one hand that we didn’t witness a kill, but I love all birds and realize that there are some who require other birds in their diet in order to survive. It is easy to love the small (and cute) birds that visit our feeders – we feel protective of them, but nature is a system with food chains and everything has its place, even those (of us) at the top of the chain. We and the other carnivores are considered apex predators, only these days we humans don’t have to worry about tigers or bears. We just have to worry about other humans
The next day we were inside looking at our feeders through the windows as we often do and suddenly the hawk was back, sitting in that same green ash tree. Once again the surrounding trees and shrubs were bare of birds. It sat there for a few minutes than gave up and flew off over the field. Since it has survived this long, its chances of reaching adulthood seem brighter. The truth is that only 50% of all birds survive the first year of their life. This hawk could have been hatched in a forest nearby or much further north, since they will nest up into Canada and spend winters here or farther south.
By Kate Crowley