May 23, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 05 January 2012 13:55
“We have a young torby cat, a petite rescued stray, who enjoys prowling the woods around our Ridgefield house on Fulling Mill Lane,” Bob writes. “Although small for her age, she’s an avid mouser and a tree-climber, often climbing to heights of 50 feet or more.
“On Christmas day around noon, I was in the driveway when I heard her collar bell, indicating she had spotted me and was running up our long driveway. Suddenly I heard a hellacious cat-scream and turned in time to see a large bird flying very low to the ground, just ahead of my cat and directed away from her.
“It was Red-tailed Hawk. It flew up into a tree on our front lawn and began to watch the driveway.
“I checked my cat and saw that she had a long mark on her fur, to the right of her spine, but the skin hadn’t been broken. I assume that as the hawk tried to hit her, she turned and fought back — hence the scream.
“On the very next day, the same hawk flew onto our driveway, landing on the very spot where he had hit her, and then flew up into the same tree he had watched from the day before.
“I had been concerned about this hawk because I had heard his unique call (his call cracks just like a teenaged-boy’s voice) around our house for months; I hadn’t seen him close until the day of the attack, but I had seen his shadow often flying over our bird feeders. Then over the last week, we had our feeders knocked down to the ground, and the songbirds that usually crowd our feeders were nowhere to be seen.
“Now on New Year’s Eve, we were awakened early by the raucous calls of many crows; they were upset about something. And then later that day, I saw what it was: Our crackly-voiced redtail flew to a branch overlooking our backyard, followed by five or six very large black birds. I wasn’t sure what they were until a got the binoculars on them: it was a group of Black Vultures: there were five black vultures who seemed to congregate near each other, and a turkey vulture several trees away. I had never seen one before, but it was unmistakable: a very dark-colored naked head, jet-black feathers, and a lighter patch on each wingtip. Lucky for me, one of the black vultures gave me quite a show, preening himself, stretching his wings, then soaring to another tree. The flock of crows returned to harass the vultures, who slowly moved to a neighbor’s yard.
“By the way, there were two redtails, one with the crackly voice and another with a normal call. They seemed to be calling each other at times, and generally one would fly while the other sat on a branch.
“The same show was played out again today, New Year’s Day. At least one redtail seemed to be watching the driveway during the daytime.
“Why would the vultures congregate? They seemed to be following the redtails. And why were the crows so upset? I did not see any animal carcass nearby, so I wonder if the vultures were simply anticipating a meal in hopes the hawk would make a kill?”
Black Vultures often use crows or even hawks as a sign that carrion may be present. I have seen examples where Black and Turkey Vultures would arrive after crows discovered a carcass, and chase the crows off. That many vultures in the trees suggests there was already something dead nearby. Hawks will also eat carrion, but prefer fresh meat. Perhaps the redtail had caught something earlier, and some remains were still there. Or maybe, as Bob suggests, the vultures were just hopeful.
Crows are famous for “mobbing” hawks and owls, a way of defending themselves against raptors that might prey on them. It is also a way of teaching young crows that this is the enemy. Crows don’t typically mob vultures, which are not predators but which do compete for carrion.
Coastal Birding at the Edith Read Sanctuary, shorebirds and more at Rye, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 7, 8 to noon, $15, Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230.
Introduction to Backyard Birding with Dick Worth, adult and family program for children 10 and up Saturday, Jan. 14, 10 to 11 a.m., Connecticut Audubon Center, at 325 Burr Street, Fairfield, 203-259-6305, ctaudubon.org.
Lifestyles of the Birds of Winter, family-friendly class about how birds like chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers survive in winter, Saturday, Jan. 14 , 1 to 2:30 p.m., Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230.
First Sunday Bird Walks at Greenwich Point (Tod’s Point ), Feb. 5, March 4, 9 to 11 a.m., spotting scopes available, free, sponsored by Wild Wings, Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, for info, Meredith Sampson, 203-637-9822.
Eagle Viewing Trips, on Connecticut River, Feb. 11 through March 18; 9, 11:30 and 2 on weekends, and 10 and 1 on Thursdays; $40, Connecticut Audubon, 1-800-996-8747.
Cuba bird study, trip with Connecticut Audubon, survey work involved, March 3-15, 860-767-0660
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] gmail.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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