An hour ago, before the daylight began to fade and the flat light of an overcast sky started turning the river beyond my work room window into a ribbon of tarnished pewter, I looked out and saw all the birds at the various feeders startle abruptly. A moment later the reason for their sudden flight became obvious when a Cooper’s hawk settled onto a limb of the front yard box elder.
It was the first time I’d seen the Cooper’s since the weather had taken its wintry turn…though not the first evidence I’d had of its presence.
Yesterday, when I went out to fill the basket feeders with sunflower seeds and scatter a scoop or two of cracked corn onto the ground, I saw a small pile of feathers beside the box elder’s trunk. I believe the feathers came from a nuthatch, of which there are always at least one or two hanging around. In addition to the handful of feathers, there were also a few drops of blood on the new-fallen snow.
Obviously, something had killed and eaten a bird—probably a foraging nuthatch—on the spot. I figured the predator in question was either a hawk or an owl, since both are fairly common here along the river. When the Cooper’s hawk landed in the tree this afternoon and began scanning around like a café patron checking out wall menus, I had little doubt I was looking at the prime suspect.
I had a couple of Cooper’s hawks working my feeder birds last winter. And at least one the year before—the first winter after we’d moved into this streamside cottage. For a while I was outraged and set about protecting “my” feeder visitors. Then the absurdity of such an attitude struck me: was I going to pick and choose the species I fed? Did some birds deserve to eat while others starved? Was there a moral issue here, or just prejudice?
In the end, I opted to let the hawks be hawks. Which, I must add, wasn’t a death warrant on my feeder birds. More often than not—by a ratio of perhaps 20-to-1— the Cooper’s hawk usually struck out. Usually…
Hey, a hawk has to eat, too.
This time around, seeing as how any potential meal ticket had already flown away, the hawk could do nothing more except look around for a few seconds and then head off to where the pickin's might prove more profitable. Perhaps a neighbor's feeder?
Anyway, I did manage a quick—though not very good—photo of this afternoon’s visiting Cooper’s.