Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nature's Dark Side

Sitting here, watching the feathers fall gently on to the patio, I am reminded of the very first hawk attack I witnessed 21 years ago.
Twelve very tame jays were daily visitors to our feeders (seven Steller's & a family of five Gray Jays)
If I wasn't out the door by 9 a.m., the Steller's would run the length of the metal roof, banging relentlessly until I emerged.
The Chickadees, just as eager, would politely join in by tapping their beaks lightly on the windows.
Cute...or at least I thought it was. My husband wasn't so happy when they so rudely woke him up early on the weekends. The first time he heard it he said "what the hell is that!?!"
As I would fill the feeders, the Gray Jays would silently glide in & our dog would begin his search at the base of the tree for fallen tidbits.
I barely noticed the hawk but the birds did & instantly froze.
A flash of stripes, a single screech & it was all over.
A quick tally revealed all 12 jays & a handful of chickadees were perched safely in the feeder tree.
It was a full 10 minutes though before the "dee dee dee" started up again & another 10 before any of them dared move.
As I placed the last of the seeds and cookies on the platform, the tree emptied of all birds except for one lone Steller's Jay who remained, tightly pressed to the tree trunk.
Several minutes later when the jay finally shifted I was able to see the damage, most of it's right leg was gone! This was one tough jay though & it adapted fairly well to it's missing appendage, making use of branches & other objects for balance when it was perched.
Over time "old no foot" became the tamest jay of the bunch.

Since then I have witnessed sever hawk attacks but none so clever as the antics of the male American Kestral that was a regular invader at our feeders.
At least half a dozen times I watched as he herded Pine Siskens & Evening Grosbeaks into our windows, occasionally even retrieving the lifeless bird before it hit the ground. Ingenious.
One grosbeak, forced into the patio window, dropped on to the back of our sleeping dog. Before the dog could move, the kestral swooped in & snatched the dead bird off the dog' back. It sure freaked the dog out! She remained motionless, ears down & her shock filled eyes staring helplessly at me for the entire split second event.
Only once did I see the kestral itself hit the window.
When it fell to the ground it still had a Pine Sisken in its clutches. After a few moments of recovery it flew off, having never lost grip of its prize.

I've come to realize, reluctantly, that hawks have as much right in our back yard lanscape as any other bird.
A hawk, pursuing & capturing its prey is no different than the prey who only moments before killed an insect to satisfy its own hunger.
Such is the natural cycle of life.

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