Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When Death is on the Wing

Male sharp-shinned hawk.

We've had a male sharp-shinned hawk haunting our farmyard and feeding station. I can see why he's coming here. We've got a plethora of feeder birds, some of whom seem to NOT KNOW WHAT AN ACCIPITER IS.

Well, in case any of our backyard birds are reading Bill of the Birds (and they SHOULD be) an accipiter is a bird of prey that specializes in eating other, smaller birds. Sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks are our two widespread and common accipiters across most of North America. A surprising number of people who feed birds also get to see birds feeding upon birds at their feeding stations when an "accip" bursts into the yard to nab a victim.

Short, rounded wings and a long rudderlike tail (a build like a fighter plane) allow Coops and sharpies to pursue songbirds at high speeds through wooded habitat. They either sit and wait for a bird to pass by, or they soar high overhead and make a dive on unsuspecting birds below--often coming at them directly out of the sun, a strategy that fighter pilots often use.

This male sharpie is unflappable. He lets us snap his photo out the windows of Julie's studio and he even let me walk out the door and sneak within about 30 feet of him as he sat on the crossbar of our feeder set-up.


I love having this bird around. He's keeping our birds on their toes and keeping their populations healthy by weeding out the slow, sick, and weak.

He's not here everyday. Every third day or so I find another pile of cardinal or junco or goldfinch feathers in the yard. Then I know that death has come again, on the wing, passing through this old ridgetop farm.

It is stealth then flashing pursuit. Talons grabbing, parting feather barbules and piercing skin, a songbird's tiny heart racing through its last few beats. Blood droplets merge with the soggy soil. Then the coup de grĂ¢ce, and Nature, red in tooth and claw, heaves another sigh of contentment.

Labels: , , ,