Tag Archives: Hawks

Hawk spoils start of winter bird feeding season

According to a recent Census Report, Americans are feeding birds in epic numbers — 63 million people in this country make life less of a struggle for birds by filling bird feeders with sunflower seeds, peanuts and other goodies. In fact, watching and feeding birds ranks second only to gardening as one of America’s popular pastimes.

Unfortunately, bringing wild birds into our lives means we are occasional witnesses to the darker side of nature that dictates there’s a survival of the fittest competition taking place in our own backyards and gardens.

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Photo by Dbadry/Pixabay.com • A sharp-shinned hawk visits a bird bath during the Christmas season. These small hawks, designed to prey on songbirds, sometimes learn to stalk feeders, which creates distress for the human landlords.

Welcoming birds into our yards and lives means inviting all birds, include predatory raptors such as sharp-shinned hawk, merlin, Cooper’s hawk and American kestrel. It’s a problem Elizabeth Laing has had to cope with in recent weeks. We’ve commiserated over Facebook about her conflicted feelings about the predatory nature of the hawk that’s been stalking birds at her feeders.

Elizabeth sent me a message via Facebook on Nov. 21 about a situation unfolding at her home in Abingdon, Virginia.

“Please help me to know what to do,” she wrote as the start of her message. “Right now I an absolutely devastated and in tears. I have about eight feeders up year round. I feed a lot of small birds in my backyard and even crows in my front yard. I have at least 15 American goldfinches right now at several sunflower chip feeders.”

Elizabeth noted that for the past few days she had seen a small hawk in her backyard for the first time ever.

“I was worried and tried to scare it off,” she wrote. “I realize they have to eat, too, and are beautiful birds, but I don’t want them killing birds on my feeders.”

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John James Audubon painted this pair of sharp-shinned hawk and shows the size difference between males and females. Many people are surprised to learn that female hawks are typically much larger than males, which is also true of the Cooper’s hawk.

Unfortunately, that’s what happened right as she watched through a window as a goldfinch feeding at her feeder.

“The hawk swooped in and grabbed him off the feeder,” she reported.In the wake of the hawk’s action, Elizabeth took some sensible steps, including immediately taking down her feeders.

Some of her birds, such as the tufted titmice, came back quickly and perched on the empty feeder poles. “I felt so bad,” she said. “I want to feed them, but I can’t stand the thought of them being snatched off my feeders.”

She concluded her message by asking my advice. I responded and told her that when hawks do make a habit of raiding feeders, it can be necessary to curtail feeding for a couple of weeks or longer. Most authorities on birding insist that the hawks will lose interest and move to more productive feeding grounds. Unfortunately, the raptor visiting Elizabeth’s yard proved persistent.

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Photo by NatureLady/Pixabay.com Immature sharp-shinned hawk look different than adults, but once they learn to hunt, they are very efficient predators.

 

“I wanted to update you on my hawk problem,” Elizabeth wrote back in another message on Nov. 26. “I took all my feeders down, but not long enough. After five days, I put them back.

She had also invested in brand new, expensive caged feeders. She purchased the caged feeders thinking the goldfinches would be safe inside.

For flocking birds, like American goldfinches, the caged feeders offered security only to birds inside the caging. Those birds waiting outside of the caging for their own turns at the feeder remained vulnerable.

“I found feathers on the side of one cage this morning,” she wrote. “Then, as I was watching a bunch eat, that hawk swooped in and took another one off the side.”

The entire situation has made her discouraged and sad. “I hope this doesn’t mean I will have to stop feeding birds entirely. I actually have bags of seeds and peanuts (for the titmice) coming in the mail later this week,” she wrote.

In the wake of the latest attacks, she has taken down the feeders again. “I will leave them down for two weeks this time,” she wrote. “I know the hawk has to eat, too, and it’s a beautiful bird, but I can’t do this to my little goldfinches.”

I agreed that it would be senseless, as well as rather cruel, to provide food for songbirds while knowing a hawk is lurking in the vicinity.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A sharp-shinned hawk photographed after capturing and killing a Northern cardinal feeding on the ground beneath a feeder.

 

Elizabeth also asked if I have had birds killed at my feeders. Although it has been a thankfully rare occurrence, hawks have snatched birds visiting my feeders. I’ve not often witnessed the actual predation, often finding only a pile of feathers on the ground as evidence of the hawk’s success.

A few years ago, however, I witnessed a rather dramatic attack on New Year’s Day. As I watched a female Northern cardinal feeding on sunflower seeds spilled onto the ground by the birds visiting a hanging feeder, a sharp-shinned hawk suddenly slammed into the cardinal. In an instant, I saw my first and second bird species of the New Year. The cardinal, however, didn’t get to live and enjoy the unfolding year.

The website allaboutbirds.org described the sharp-shinned hawk as “a tiny hawk that appears in a blur of motion — and often disappears in a flurry of feathers.” It’s an apt description of this pint-sized predatory bird.

The website also notes that studies indicate that feeders don’t make it more likely that our favorite songbirds will be preyed upon by a sharp-shinned hawk or other raptor. Although feeders might temporarily attract a raptor, these birds will catch the majority of their prey elsewhere.

The sharp-shinned hawk belongs to a genus of raptors known as accipiters, which are slender raptors with rounded wings and long tails. They are highly maneuverable in flight. A characteristic of accipiters is long legs and sharp talons. In fact, the genus is named from the Latin word for hawk, “accipere,” which can be translated as, “to grasp.”

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Photo by Sarangib/Pixabay.com • A shikra (Accipiter badius) is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae found widely distributed in Asia and Africa where it is also called the little banded goshawk.

Other members of the accipiters in North America include the Cooper’s hawk and Northern goshawk. Other accipiters around the world include such raptors as chestnut goshawk, red-chested goshawk, crested goshawk, little sparrowhawk, spot-tailed sparrowhawk, black sparrowhawk and red-thighed sparrowhawk.

Elizabeth sent me one other message, informing me that she had also advised her neighbor to take down his feeder, which he did. Shortly after he did so, Elizabeth saw the hawk attack a squirrel, which, thanks to Elizabeth rapping on a windowpane, apparently survived the attack.

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Photo by Skeeze/Pixabay.com The Cooper’s hawk, like this individual, is a larger relative of the sharp-shinned hawk. It’s larger size allows this raptor to prey on larger birds, such as mourning doves.

In addition, if the hawk in her yard is attacking squirrels, her visitor is probably a Cooper’s hawk, a bird almost identical to a sharp-shinned hawk except for its larger size. I’m hopeful that an extended hiatus will convince the hawk to leave Elizabeth and her goldfinches in peace.

It’s still good to remember that hawks view smaller birds flocking to a feeder in the same way those small songbirds view the abundance of seeds. For both hawks and songbirds, our offerings represent easy meals. It’s not easy, but the best choice is to co-exist — if not at peace, then at terms with nature’s reality.

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Bird club selling calendars

The Lee & Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society is selling its 2019 calendar for $15 each. All proceeds are used to support birding opportunities and bird-related causes in Northeast Tennessee. The calendar’s pages feature more than 80 full-color photographs of area birds, including common favorites and some not-so-common visitors. The front cover features a dazzling photograph of a gorgeous male rose-breasted grosbeak. If you’re interested in obtaining a calendar, contact ahoodedwarbler@aol.com by email or send a message via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. Calendars can be mailed to any destination in the United States for an additional charge of $2 for shipping and postage.

Hoping to invite many birds to my yard in 2015

The first day of 2015 produced some excitement in the yard here on Simerly Creek Road. I was watching a female Northern Cardinal — the first cardinal I had observed in the new year — as she foraged on the ground beneath one of the feeders. I even used my camera to take a few photos of her through the window.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                         A female Northern Cardinal foraging on the ground beneath a feeder.

I was getting ready to snap another picture when an intruder violently inserted itself into the scene, scattering other birds at the feeders. Everything happened so quickly I needed an instant to figure out what was happening.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  The visiting Sharp-shinned Hawk is pictured only seconds after capturing the cardinal in its talons.

A pair of spread wings eventually transformed into a full bird as my brain identified the intruder as an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk — and one that had just captured itself a meal, albeit at the expense of the cardinal.
With the cardinal secured in its talons, the hawk looked ready to consume its prey when an American Crow flew to a tree and perched overhead making its displeasure with the hawk very clear. The hawk hesitated and then took off, taking its prey with it and leaving with such velocity that it left the protesting crow far behind.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a stealthy, efficient and determined predator.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk became one of the first birds on a yard list I will be keeping in 2015. A couple of years ago I did a list of all the species of birds I observed in the five-county area of Northeast Tennessee. Such a list is fun to compile, but it takes a lot of dedication. I figure counting the birds that make an appearance in my yard from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 in 2015 is a more feasible goal.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                      The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small raptor, often described as similar in size to a dove.

In addition to the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Cardinal and American Crow, the other birds I’ve already added to my 2015 yard list are Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Purple Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch.

That’s more than 20 species and the year is not yet a week old. My goal is to find at least 100 species in 2015. The tally will probably proceed slowly, but I will provide regular updates as I add new species to the list.

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Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter          An immature Sharp-shinned Hawk perches on a limb. These raptors often ambush their prey.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk and its larger relative, the Cooper’s Hawk, are the two raptors most often encountered by people who feed birds. Part of the family of Accipiter hawks, these two species are widespread in woodlands.

The Cooper’s Hawk is larger, often described as similar in size to an American Crow. The Sharp-shinned, on the other hand, is usually described as the size of a dove. There’s some overlap in size, so it is not the only reliable means of identifying these hawks. For example, female Sharp-shinned Hawks are roughly equivalent in size to a male Cooper’s Hawk. As with many raptors, the female is larger than the male in both these species.

There are some other things to look for in telling these species apart. For instance, adult Sharp-shinned Hawks often look like they have a dark cap or hood. The eyes on a Sharp-shinned Hawk also look like they are halfway between the front and back of the head. In addition, the head itself looks small in comparison to the overall size of this hawk’s body.

These two species feed heavily on songbirds, which causes some bird-lovers distress. When I posted photos of the incident with the cardinal and hawk to my Facebook page, a few friends were definitely upset that the cardinal’s stay in 2015 proved so brief.
I like to view these incidents as good examples of proper balance in the natural world. The Sharp-shinned is really beautiful, especially for a hawk. Preying on songbirds doesn’t make them “bad” birds. They’re doing exactly what nature intends for them to do. They’re extremely efficient predators, and I was impressed by both the power and precision deployed by the Sharp-shinned Hawk in capturing the unfortunate cardinal.

In case you’re worried about the cardinal population, later that same day a flock of about a dozen cardinals visited my feeders about a half hour before dusk. Predatory hawks are part of the balance in nature. It’s a balance that we should strive not to upset.

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Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                           A Red-tailed Hawk is shown standing in a field.

In the past few days, I have seen Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl and Cooper’s Hawk here at home (or within a few miles of my home) and I take that as a good sign. The absence of predators can be a sign that something’s wrong with the food chain. If the chain gets broken, everything (prey and predators) will suffer.

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The Accipiter genus of hawks includes about 50 species. In Northeast Tennessee, as well as across much of North America, the two common species are Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. A third species, the Northern Goshawk, is a rare visitor to the region.

The Northern Goshawk is a large, powerful hawk, and it is also fiercely defensive of its nest. This hawk is known to attack other raptors, mammals and even humans that stray too close to its nesting site.

Goshawk is a term derived from “goose hawk,” referring to the ability of this bird when utilized in falconry to take down such large prey as geese.
Other Accipiter hawks around the world include Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, Grey-headed Goshawk, Semi-collared Hawk and Tiny Hawk, which is one of the world’s smallest raptors. This diminutive hawk is about the size of a European Starling and lives in Central and South America.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk will feed on a variety of birds, ranging in size from sparrows, warblers and thrushes to birds as large as Ruffed Grouse and Mourning Dove. This hawk also feeds on small mammals, reptiles and insects.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     A flock of American Crows mobs a perched Red-tailed Hawk.

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On Dec. 27, the resident flock of American Crows confronted a Red-tailed Hawk, eventually forcing the large raptor to leave it perch and depart the area. I’m hoping the Red-tailed Hawk will soon put in its first 2015 appearance. The first clue is usually a mob of angry and very vocal crows.

With safety in numbers, many smaller birds will gang up on raptors to drive them away. Crows can be quite merciless to both Red-tailed Hawks and any Great Horned Owls that they locate during the day.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                               Mobbing crows force a Red-tailed Hawk to take flight from a perch in a tall tree.