Friday, December 10, 2010

Backyard accipiters

As I prepared to leave the house this morning, I realized there was zero activity at the feeders. This normally means a predator is lurking. I stepped outside to start the car and found an adult Cooper's Hawk in a tree by the driveway. Normally it would fly away immediately upon sighting me, but it hardly gave me a glance. It was also vocalizing, making a single note call that sounds something like a sapsucker's call. To my amazement, as I rounded the side of the house, I was nearly at eye level with a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk in our pear tree. I had seen this one a few days earlier, when it missed a meal at the feeders and sat on our bench briefly. It was making a low, whistling sound apparently in response to the presence of the other bird.

The standoff lasted a couple of minutes, with me getting great looks at both species, and being able to compare live birds not fifty feet apart. In this case the size difference was most noticeable, the Cooper's being at least fifty percent bigger than the sharpie. The sharpie had a square tail, while the Cooper's tail had the longest feathers in the middle, giving it a more rounded appearence. Cooper's head and nape gave it a more angular look. I would slowly walk back and forth between the two, getting as close as twelve feet to the sharpie. Finally the Cooper's had enough, and flew at the sharpie, but only scaring it up to the top of the chimney, where it perched again briefly, before flying into the woodlot next door. The Cooper's retreated across the street to the top of the tall snag where it is often seen. During all this, I finally realized that the four Wild Turkeys who have been around since the fall were standing about thirty feet away watching me watch the hawks. Quite a way to start the day!

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