Tuesday 23 September 2014
 

Wintering hawks take bird feeding to its highest level

 

by Lowell Washburn

The woman at the opposite end of the phone line was -- well, she was hysterical.  Absolutely in a rage, and that’s putting it mildly.  Whenever she’d stop to take a breath, I’d seize the opportunity to try working in a few words of my own.  Didn’t work.  Before I’d get half way through the first sentence, off she’d go again.  At first I was confused, but eventually I began to connect the dots.  As near as I could tell, here’s what had happened.

     The caller was an avid birder.  While enjoying an early morning cup of tea and peacefully observing the bustling activity around the backyard feeders, a hawk had suddenly burst on the scene.  Winter tranquility was replaced by instant chaos.  Following a brief chase, the hawk had caught and subdued a dove which, at the time of the call, was apparently being plucked and eaten directly beneath the lady’s kitchen window.  The event was entirely unacceptable.  Something needed to be done.

Hawks eating doves is nothing new, of course.  I suspect it’s been going on for a long long time.  Although certainly a more recent phenomena, hawks visiting backyard bird feeders is also nothing out of the ordinary.  Happens all the time, in fact.  In almost all cases, the offending raptors are either sharp-shinned hawks or Cooper’s hawks.  Both are woodland species -- characterized by short wings, long tails, and extreme bursts of speed.

Although a person cannot help being impressed with the hawks’ streamlined beauty and impressive displays of speed, they are regarded as unwelcome visitors at most feeders.  Whenever these speedy hunters do come calling, the reaction to these “True Life Adventures” usually becomes charged with emotion and, sometimes, is downright hostile.

A minority of the people I’ve talked to [all males but for three exceptions] have been thrilled at having the chance to witness the predator/prey relationship play out in their very own backyards.  They mainly call just to share what they’ve seen --- like the Cooper’s hawk snagging a dove.  For most people, the event represents a first time opportunity to observe as a wild hawk chases, catches, plucks, and finally consumes its prey.  

The vast majority of folks, however, have a very different view.  They are anything but thrilled.  Most are frustrated.  Nearly all are angry -- some extremely so -- over what they perceive as the calculated murder of innocent songbirds at the hands, or more properly the talons, of a ruthless hawk.

I must admit that they do have a point.  Songbirds are innocent.  Hawks are indeed ruthless.  But another point worth considering, and this where the phone conversation usually starts going south, is that hawks chasing and eating - Read More Via e-Edition