Wildlife Wednesday: February 2015

red-shouldered hawk
juvenile red-shouldered hawk

A hawk in the flesh! I knew they were out there. I’d seen the signs.

Perfect circles of down will appear as if by magic on the lawn. Sometimes the sign is macabre — a decapitated dove body placed just so for anyone to stumble upon. No head in sight. Hawk-like shapes do hang from the sky. The image is usually too far away for me to identify the bird with certainty but when small birds disperse in a panic I am reasonably confident that a hawk and not a vulture draws near. The blue jay knows all about the hawk’s winged-death reputation. He sometimes satirizes the kee-rah call knowing it is a great way to clear away birdfeeder competition.

This hawk flew right past me and settled onto a nearby branch. Just as I was appreciating its sudden appearance another bird — a starling I think — took notice mid-flight. The starling had been aiming its way toward the same tree. As soon as it saw who was already perched there the starling veered sharply away. I almost laughed as I imagined its momentary terror. The hawk was above it all and didn’t seem perturbed or even interested. I wondered briefly if it ever feels lonely having everyone flee from you in terror.

A moment later the hawk bent low and pushed off with those powerful legs. Only a couple wing beats were needed to take it out of sight.

Of course I had to learn more. Red-shouldered hawks perform something called a sky dance when courting. Sky dance? What a beautiful phrase. Now I have to wonder: was it a hawk I saw the other day diving head first toward the pond, swooping out of the dive at the last moment and spiralling up and up? When I met my husband I felt that same kind of reckless love.

It can create a bond that lasts. I watched a video showing a female hawk laying her eggs. After the third and final egg she looked exhausted. Empty. But as she gathered her strength her partner flew by and offered a sprig of flowers. They might have been apple blossoms.

***

Nancy Willard wrote an amazing poem about a different kind of hawk. She is my favourite poet this week.

***

Thanks Tina for hosting Wildlife Wednesday each month.

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32 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday: February 2015

  1. So many hawks in our neck of the wood right now! I see one at least once a day perched on my fence, a nearby tree, or circling the neighborhood, searching out it’s next meal. They are such magnificent creatures. I’m still hoping I get to watch a kill in action sometime. I’m not morbid, and it is sad that another bird has to die in the process, but I just think it would be amazing to watch such a powerful bird in action.

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  2. Beautiful photo, Debra. I enjoyed the imagery of the sky dance as well as how it relates to you and your husband. You had me searching the web for more info about that dance. I have to truly admit, though, that Nancy Willard’s poem had my stomach turning at points! I’ve seen hawks capture and then eat birds until nothing was left but feathers, but actually seeing the process described in a poem brought to life just how chilling and primeval it is. Thanks for a beautiful post.

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  3. Hi Debra, thanks for visiting and commenting at Hill Country Mysteries. I followed you back here–lovely post. A young Cooper’s Hawk hunts our neighborhood, especially the sparrows. Would break my heart if he got a bunting but we seem to have a lot of sparrows and the hawks have a place in society.

    We’ve been in Stage 3 water restrictions in New Braunfels for maybe two years now and will likely stay in Stage 3 or slide to Stage 4 this summer (a probability more than a possibility). I’m a habitat gardener starting over at a new place…can’t wait to put add wildlife food and shelter plantings but afraid to plant when we might not be able to water…

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    1. Thanks! I was so excited to see this bird up close. I know that fear about starting a garden. I worry a bit that maybe I missed a window to establish plants now that the watering restrictions are going to be stricter.

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  4. What a great post. You really have a way with words. I love the idea of a ‘ sky dance’.
    You have so many more hawks than we do here. Hawks are beautiful birds, but I dread having the Sparrowhawk appear in my garden hoovering up all the little song birds.

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    1. Thanks. I saw that phrase at the Cornell bird site and thought it was so perfect. The hawks that hunt in my neighbourhood might go after the little song birds but they do seem to prefer doves and pigeons which are abundant. Not that that is any consolation if you happen to be a dove or pigeon …

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  5. We always enjoy our hawks around here. Most of them are Red-tailed and Coopers. They are such efficient flyers and skilled hunters. The Coopers frequent backyard feeders hoping to snag an unwary bird. I’ve seen them zoom in at high speed. I don’t know how they avoid hitting branches. If they stop and sit nearby, every bird in the bushes freezes motionless. Funny sight.

    One day we were watching a squirrel under the feeder when a Cooper swooped in and surprised it. It was caught in both feet. The Cooper’s wings were spread. It wriggled a few time to get a good grip and leaped into the air to fly away. The squirrel tail was dangling below. That was an exciting thing to watch. What power.

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    1. Great descriptions. I’ve never had that experience of seeing one actually hunt. It must be breathtaking. Seeing this hawk up close I was really taken with how powerful it looked. My husband said: that is a bird that really could take on a small cat like ours.

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      1. We walked by the corner house on our street. They have two small white yip-yip fluffy dogs. They act like they want to tear your ankles off.

        A Bald Eagle was soaring way up high. We both thought it would be exciting if it swooped down and removed one of them in front of us. It didn’t happen, but… :-)

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  6. Oh, what a sweet post, Debra. “Sky dance” is a beautiful phrase and yes, it applies to us humans too, at that first blush of love.

    I’ve seen the same thing: hawk in flight, some bird along the same path, with an immediate turn in the opposite direction. It’s definitely worth a chuckle. My husband and I have always giggled at the swoop of birds, when a hawk flies by–in fact, when I’m outdoors, that’s how I know to look up–panicked birds, usually, means hawk!

    That photo is fabulous!! Thanks for participating!

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    1. I love this project of yours, Tina. Every month now as I rove around I look for something — anything for that Wednesday deadline. That assignment feels motivating. Even better is seeing what other people find. There are so many talented photographers participating that it is a real pleasure to check the links.

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      1. I love how selfless the gift was. He didn’t wait around but just kind of left her to get her strength. I think that pair bond might be so strong because they really have only each other.

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  7. Lovely to read your post and comparison to meeting your husband Debra, I thought you were teasing so have watched your link to the female Hawk, what an incredible sight, I wonder why the male bird did that?

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  8. What a great shot. I’m in admiration – hawks are not easy to capture with their tendency to perch high above the rest of us.

    I’ve always been captivated by the sight of hawks wheeling in the sky. That’s an interesting idea – that they might be affected by the terror their presence carries. I think they might enjoy the experience. To clear a tree just like that? Very powerful stuff.

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    1. I wasn’t at all happy with that picture and nearly swore at that hawk for flying away so quickly. heh. I love that image of hawks wheeling in the sky but it always fills me with a bit of jealousy — how I wish I could do that too. I wondered about how they felt because around here the flocks are so diverse — nearly everyone seems to group together.

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