Sunday, November 18, 2012

Backyard Bird Drama

After unsuccessfully searching for the rare Snowy Owl seen at the Louisville Airport the night before, I came home Saturday for some lunch. Walking into the kitchen, I gasped to see a Cooper's Hawk sitting on top of a bird feeder in the back yard!

Coopers nested in our neighbor's tree for three years, so I am not surprised to find young hawks in my yard, but usually they are perched in a tree looking for lunch, or trying to avoid mobbing groups of smaller birds. I wonder if she is one of our fledglings all grown up.

This beautiful adult brazenly sat in the middle of all the feeders looking around. Of course, the yard was silent. The backyard birds wisely crouched in the dry leaves, hiding from this known predator and keeping absolutely quiet. The hawk scanned the yard, concentrating particularly on the drying flowers of our butterfly garden. Would this be my lifetime chance to photograph a hawk actually catching prey? She appeared to be searching for ground rodents, not the birds we normally would expect her to hunt for.

After a few minutes, some of the braver birds came out of hiding. Could they tell the hawk wasn't interested in their kind today? I noticed that the little nutchatches and chickadees would grab one sunflower seed while the hawk was turned the other way, then dash back into the leaves again. Smart birds!

The hawk thought she saw something under the flowers and hopped to the ground, peering between the dry stems for a mouse or chipmunk, and completely ignoring the birds.

Aha! This is our chance! and my pair of Carolina Wrens started eating sunflower seeds, their pert little tails sticking straight up as usual.

At least four First of Season Red Breasted Nuthatches came to dine as well.  I usually don't see them in my backyard most years. Ron Pittaway is forecasting that a fair number of species--especially Red and White-winged Crossbills, redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Evening Grosbeaks--are likely to be on the move this year due to widespread crop failure of fruiting and cone-bearing trees in Canada. Three irruptive non-finch passerines are also discussed in his report.

Lots of Kentucky birders (not me yet) are finding large numbers of Pine Siskins in their yards already. Snowy Owls are showing up in mid-November, and as far south as Louisville, KY - which is quite unusual. Something is going on with the regular winter food supply of these birds, causing them to leave their home territories. After last year's unusually mild winter, I wonder what's going to happen this year. I try not to think about doom and gloom rumors, i.e. the Mayan prediction, but the nature of a disaster is to come without warning. We are planning to go to Florida in February, which normally portends a big snow for the north while we are gone. Sorry guys, it just happens that way.

The Cooper's Hawk landed for a minute on a decorative log in the garden, then headed into the brush. I'm sure she's still around somewhere, just prudently keeping out of sight. She's not worried about the rest of the winter, just what she will eat today.

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