Monday, July 23, 2012

Sharp Shin Attack

Feeding birds has frequently been the focus of this column because we have a variety of visitors sampling our sunflower seeds.  Since the tornado went through last May destroying a number of trees and forcing my husband to do some unplanned pruning, our backyard vista has changed considerably.  To distract me from missing my trees, we strategically hung several more feeders with great results.  We have more birds than ever.

            As a result, the population has changed a bit due to the sparse new landscape.  With the change in tree-scape, our brown thrashers have gone elsewhere. I loved watching them under the trees, so I miss their presence.

 Opening the view lets me sight a great blue heron that feeds near the bottom of our draw in the mornings and evenings.  For all I know, it’s always been there, but now I regularly see it.  Often times, a couple of mallards paddle up and down the creek while the heron wades.  Again, they may have always cruised this section of Big Creek, but I didn’t know it.

            With less greenery, it’s been easier to spot the cardinal pair snacking on our seeds through the winter and then perching in a nearby cedar to look Christmas-card scenic.  Unfortunately, about Christmas time, the little female of the pair disappeared.  I’ve watched, hoping she’d return, but the male returns alone time after time.  I wondered what happened to her, and now I think I know.

            At the same time our view of the feeders improved because of the open space, a neighboring sharp shin hawk benefited as well.  One recent afternoon, little birds kept crashing into the dining room window, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  It wasn’t the right time of year for drunken cedar waxwings to collide in intoxicated flight.

            First, I heard a thunk, and when I looked, I found a downy woodpecker lying on its back considering whether it wanted to recover or not.  Fortunately for it and its hard head, the collision merely stunned it, so after getting up woozily and wobbling about, it flew off. 

            Not long after, a softer clunk alerted me to a bird/window wreck.  This time a little junco lay stunned outside the glass.  Again, after a short recovery, it took off, leaving me wondering what was causing this many unusual window contacts.

            About that time, I needed to work at the table positioned next to that window.  If any more birds crashed, surely I would see the cause of all these efforts to plaster my plate glass with down feathers.

            I didn’t have to wait long.  Within thirty minutes, darting sharp shin energy flashed on the feeder closest to the dining room, scattering feeding birds in its attack.  This time, I thought the dashing hawk and fleeing prey would shatter the glass and land in my lap.  As the tiny bird hit the window leaving a trail of gray down splayed against the glass, I could see the predator’s talons latch around it.  Someone would eat well that afternoon.

            This bird of prey did what hawks do to survive.  It fed at the feeder.

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