May 21, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 17 February 2011 11:59
It’s been a tough winter. Recent columns have discussed how birds survive in harsh winters and, last week, we talked about hawks and their prey. This week, Jere Ross of Redding describes an incident that may show yet another way hawks seek food.
“As I sat down to lunch in my kitchen alcove yesterday, looking out at my ice-encrusted back yard, I found a sharpie standing on the ‘lawn’ with a small gray bird — probably a titmouse — pinned beneath its talons, about 30 feet from me and 20 feet from my feeder,” Jere writes.“The sharpie remained motionless except for turning its head from side to side a few times, and this went on for about three minutes. Suddenly the local red-tail swooped down from an overhanging oak, and the sharpie burst into the air with its prey and made a beeline for the nearby woods. The red-tail pulled up and flew up into another tree and that was that.
“Both of these hawks — or others of the species, and coops [Cooper’s Hawk] — have been around my back yard for years, and I find evidence of depredation three or four times a season. However, none this year until yesterday, and there’s no tell-tale such as feathers in the grass this year because of the snow and ice and the wind that blows it away. But I’ve never before seen two raptors in a situation like this.”
The question is: Just what was the situation? Was that Red-tailed Hawk eying the titmouse captured by the Sharp-shinned Hawk, or was it drooling over the sharpie itself — more meaty fare.
While red-tails feed primarily on small mammals like squirrels, they have been known to eat everything from owls to grasshoppers. Among the birds they have been seen consuming are crows, doves, bobwhites, woodpeckers, starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, kingfishers, robins, and owls. So it’s possible this bird had its eye on the sharpie, which is about the same size a Mourning Dove.
However, William S. Clark, in his classic work, Hawks of North America, says Red tails “often pirate prey from other raptors.”
So probably the Red-tail was hoping to frighten the sharpie into dropping that tasty titmouse. It didn’t work.
We’ve had a lot of hawk reports this winter, but some are downright ghostly.
“Yesterday, I was slowly and cautiously navigating the windy roads of Lake Kitchawan,” writes Judy Wald of South Salem. “Suddenly, a giant white bird swooped down and landed in a front yard on Lake Kitchawan Drive. I had heard from several neighbors of their sightings in northern New Canaan, Pound Ridge, and South Salem, since last year, of this beautiful bird....
“The big bird was fluttering up and down, apparently over its carrion, pecking at it. Its meal appeared to be a squirrel. Finally it flew away with it. Could it be an albino hawk?”
A December 2009 BirdNotes dealt with this — or a similar — Red-tailed Hawk that has been sighted in the Lewisboro, N.Y., area for years. While albino and leucistic Red-tailed Hawks are uncommon, several have been seen in our area in the past 15 years. In the 1990s, a white red-tail inhabited Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and we once saw it sitting in a tree at the edge of a field there. Red-tails are more susceptible to this pigmentation problem than many other kinds of birds. They are truly ghostly birds to see.
A reminder that the coming long weekend, Friday through Monday, is the Great Backyard Bird Count, where we “citizen scientists” get to tell the folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology what we see in our yards. Anyone can help by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. At www.birdcount.org, you can enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time and watch as the tallies grow across the continent. Coordinated by the Cornell Lab, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada, the four-day count typically records more than 10 million observations.
Check out that website for full details.
Great Backyard Bird Count, 13th annual, Feb. 18 to 21, for info, birdsource.org/gbbc
Saw Mill River Audubon Third Saturday Bird Seed Sale, Saturday, Feb. 19, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Pruyn Sanctuary Office Entrance, 275 Millwood Rd, Chappaqua, N.Y., sawmillriveraudubon.org, 914-666-6503
Great Backyard Bird Count, talk and walk, Saturday, Feb. 19, 1 to 2:30 p.m., all ages, Audubon Greenwich, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230, greenwich.audubon.org
“First Sundays,” bird walks open to all ages and skills, at Greenwich Point, with Meredith Sampson, first Sunday of the month, through May, 9 a.m. sponsored by Wild Wings, Inc., Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, 203-637-9822.
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. 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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