Nature’s dark side


submitted by: Sherry L. Lidstone

Sitting here, watching feathers fall gently on to the patio, I am reminded of the very first hawk attack I witnessed 24 years ago…..Nov. 1, 1987 to be exact. To this day I can still remember it vividly.

Twelve very tame jays were daily visitors to our feeders, seven Steller’s jays and a family of five gray jays…Mom, Dad and the kids.

If I wasn’t out the door by 9 a.m., my ‘usual’ feeding time, the Steller’s would run the length of our metal roof, banging their beaks on it relentlessly until I emerged. The tiny black-capped chickadees, just as eager but much more politely would join in by tapping their tiny 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 heck is that!?!” I chuckled and said, “My bird budz are here!”

As I would fill the feeders, the gray jays would silently glide in and our shepherd/lab cross Yogi would begin his search at the base of the tree for any fallen tidbits. Yogi loved the spilled bird seed and left over baked goods I would set out.

I barely noticed the hawk, it was just a blur above my head but the birds obviously did and instantly froze.

A flash of stripes, a single screech and it was all over.

A quick tally revealed all 12 jays and 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 and 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 its right leg was gone! This was one tough jay though and it adapted fairly well to its missing appendage, making use of branches and 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 several hawk attacks but none so clever as the antics of the male American kestrel that was a regular invader at our feeders.

At least half a dozen times I watched as he herded pine siskins and 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 Tia. Before she could move, the kestrel swooped in and snatched the dead bird off the dog’s back. It sure freaked the dog out! She remained motionless, ears down and her shock filled eyes staring helplessly at me for the entire split second event.

Only once did I see the kestrel itself hit the window. When it fell to the ground it still had a pine siskin 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 landscape as any other bird.

A hawk, pursuing and 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.

Until next time, Happy Birding.