Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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?