Wednesday, April 8, 2009

FOILED AGAIN!

Today, while still rather cold, has been bright and sunny—in sharp contrast to yesterday which was a series of on-and-off clouds and snow squalls every few minutes. Oddly, however, such changeable weather often produces interesting moments. Yesterday afternoon, a couple of hours after I’d written and posted the piece about the wood duck across the river [here] I looked up from my desk during another snowfall and saw the Cooper’s hawk come swooping in to check out the side-yard’s feeder area for any unwary small birds that might serve as a tasty meal. As always, the old Christmas tree was given a thorough investigation. My camera happened to be handy, so I made a quick portrait. [The white specks you see dotting the image are snowflakes.] The side-yard and tree are regular stops on the Cooper’s daily hunting route; I usually see the bird at least two or three times between morning and late afternoon if I’m spending most of the day at my desk, which offers an easy up-glance at the area in question. You‘d think this means the spot therefore presents a good success ratio for the effort—meals more often than not. But if my observations are typical—and I suspect they are—the truth is just the opposite. Most birds successfully flee the area as the hawk arrives. Small birds which do take quick refuge in the old evergreen’s tangles also escape, darting to safety unscathed, practically under the sharp talons and razor beak of their stalker. Their lifesaving trick is simple—the Cooper’s dives in one side of the tangle, or goes headfirst down from the top, and the hidden birds shoot out the opposite side. The hawk never seems to wise up to the tactic. Of the 40–50 hide-and-seek scenarios I’ve watched during the last month, I’ve only witnessed the Cooper’s end up with a bird firmly in its clutches once. On another occasion the hawk came rolling out (I kid you not—it was on it’s side flapping and tumbling when it reappeared from within the mass of evergreen branches!) with a sparrow, though not quite in control…and the plucky sparrow managed to get loose and fly away before the hawk could right itself and administer the coup de grâce. There could, of course, have been other successful hunts which I missed seeing. Even so, it's clear that for the Cooper’s hawk, feeding daily is a numbers game—make enough stops and you get to eat. And the odds of not being that meal are definitely in the prey's favor. Life as a hawk isn't easy—though honestly, I don't begrudge the Cooper's a few of "my" birds. Everything has to eat to live—and eating and living depend on something dying, even for the most fanatical vegetarian. The process can't be escaped except by degrees. Life thrives on death. The visit yesterday proved to be another "empty" stop for the frustrated Cooper’s hawk who dropped by for a bite to eat…but went away hungry. Can't you just see the expressed annoyance?

20 comments:

Jain said...

Ha, as a fanatical vegetarian, I would have to agree that life requires death. And the reverse is true, it's a big ol' circle.

Being a hawk would be one of the rougher jobs out there, I think. Great image.

KGMom said...

It certainly is easy to feel proprietary about the birds at one's feeders.
I do love the close-up of the Cooper's--the sharp glare in its eyes.
Obviously your feeders must yield some occasional meal for the hawk, else it would not continue returning for the pickings.

Over the weekend here in our neighborhood, I spotted what looked like a stuffed toy in the middle of our street. It turned out to be a mourning dove, quite dead. A neighbor said he had seen a red-tail hawk fly overhead and drop the dove. Poor dove was quite dead, whether from being snatched by the hawk or from the fall.
Nature--red in tooth and claw. Thus it ever was.

giggles said...

Yep, great picture....

I've had one swooping in regularly, these days....quite cool!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

It is "a big ol' circle," isn't it?

I'm telling you, being a hawk is having your work cut out for you so far as regular meals are concerned. Compared to a downy woodpecker, for example, a hawk eats intermittently at best. You know there have to be days—maybe several in a row—where things just don't work out; luck in not in the hawk's favor, regardless of skill.

I can stay fat and sassy as long as there's a grocery story somewhere nearby; but make me try and catch sparrows all day, and I'd be one skinny, sullen ol' critter.

Glad you liked the photo.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Yet the hawk doesn't give up, does he? He doesn't let it get to his self-image and think he's a failure, or blame it on the economy, or decide he's going to be a squirrel instead! He carries on doing what he's born to do.

I'll think of this, when my energy's flagging and stick my neck out afresh!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

You know, I've watched probably 200 hawk visits since last fall. I'm not looking out the window all the time, of course, or even home to look out. But if I'm working—which, drat it, I must do else me and that hawk will be competing for the same scrawny sparrow—I glance up almost between words as I'm writing, plus any movement outside usually catches my eye.

So I see a lot of visits. Yet in all those I've witnessed, I watched the Cooper's catch fewer than a dozen birds—although I have seen the start of several hot pursuits when a bird came blasting out of the evergreen, was spotted by the hawk which launched like lightening, and wasn't far behind at the outset. Depending on which direction they take, I've been able to see the outcome of a few of these—and if the bird got into another thick mass of cover in time, it still usually escaped. But give the hawk 75 feet or three seconds and it was all over. So I don't know how many of those situations which I couldn't track turned into a catch.

But it does boil down to a numbers game—and this place, even at worst, at least offers an meal opportunity. And the opportunistic hawk is smart enough to play the odds.

I don't know whether it's common for a hawk such as your red-tail to drop it prey. I wonder why, though?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Okay, one of these days you're going to have to be the hawk photographer (then we'll talk about pileateds); so keep on feedin' 'em.

So limber up your shutter-pushing finger…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

Coming from a giraffe, that's a pretty bold declaration!

Nope, the hawk doesn't quit. There are no handout lines, or dole to collect for hawks. Hunt, kill, eat…or die. Pretty straightforward. No excuses, no room for whining. Nature isn't big on indolence and sloth.

Jain said...

"Nature isn't big on indolence and sloth."

...except in the case of indolent sloths. ;o)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Can a sloth be slothful? :-)

Rowan said...

This is a beautiful photo of the hawk, they are very aristocratic looking birds. I suppose all hunting has a pretty high failure rate really, lots of effort for little reward a lot of the time. I agree with what you said about food for one living thing requiring the death of another. That's just how life is.
Re yesterday's comment - I could cope with a bird in the bathroom and a squirrel in the back of the car but a snake in the closet!? I actually don't have a problem with snakes and can handle them etc (non-poisonous of course) but I think there might be a small shriek if I found one in the closet:)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

I also think most birds of prey look regal, almost haughty—vultures excepted. I think the Cooper's hawk is a really magnificent bird, quite handsome. But I don't imagine the sparrows and wrens and titmice share my admiration.

Re. the snake in the closet…don't think for a moment there wasn't a shriek, and not a modest one—rather the sort of shriek that set the dogs to barking, sent neighbors scurrying onto their front porches, and caused the neighborhood tomcat to go sterile for a week. Wasn't all that big a snake, either.

giggles said...

I need a better camera...and believe me, the temptation to purchase one is here.... Alas, le cashola is not...yet.

The Weaver of Grass said...

He is a beautiful bird, Scribe, and he has to live - so we must allow him a good feed every day - as you say, most of his strikes miss - but he doesn't look underfed so his hunting must be quite successful I would have thought. Wish he would visit here - we do have a sparrow hawk and a merlin who come by - and mostly they miss, too.

Gail said...

Sometimes I am at a loss for words - as I sound like I am repeating myself. And yet I dare to repeat - "great photo, again, and great info on the habits of the wild-life that abounds -


and if I may, I thought my "how much wood would a wood duck wood if a wood duck could duck wood" phrasing was quite funny - I feel quite alone in my humor. :-( :-)
heehee wah wah - hee hee wah wah

again, me having fun -being silly - quite in touch with the "kid in me".

Love,
Gail and the kid
peace and laughter

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

My theory on temptation is that you yield right away, thus saving yourself the wear and tear of inevitably futile resistance. If God didn't want you to have a new camera, He wouldn't have invented credit cards.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

No, my Cooper's hawk is obviously doing okay—just not on too many of my birds. But knowing your fondness for cardinals, I wonder what you'd have thought watching it chase down and catch, in mid-air, that pretty red fellow a couple of winters back. Made the everybody's-gotta-eat mantra rather distasteful for the morning…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Life is too short to not fill it with fun and laughter! I told you there was blog idea or title in that line—though I'd change it to: How much wood could a wood duck duck if a wood duck could duck wood?

And that's no wisequack!

Gail said...

:-)

I love it!!

gail

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

It's all fun. :-)