Archive for February 9th, 2007

Luncheon is served

We have some friends who call their bird feeder the “Birdie King.” They do not refer to it this way because it is fast food for the birds, but because their cat sits under it and waits for the unwary bird to fall into its claws.  

I am not so insouciant about allowing an introduced predator to have free rein in my yard.  My cats have become quite circumspect about how they watch the bird feeders.  They have suffered consequences from being too blase and forward while engaging in that activity.

For example, Mike figured out (or thought he had, anyway) that if he was way back under the mock orange bush in the corner made by the fence and the wood shed, he could squat there with impunity.   After all, his Slave was not really going to be able to crawl under there and get him, right?  And if she was  so unco-operative as to make the attempt, he would be long gone by the time she reached his position.   Up over the fence, or around the bush and out of the yard another way; either way he was safe from any unwelcome disciplinary action.  Right?

Unfortunately for him, he forgot to take into account the inconvenient fact that the Slave can think and has access to tools.  The last time he refused to exit his little finch blind, I went off around the compost bins to where I store the buckets.  He watched me leave, eyes filled with triumph and contempt, and resumed his birdwatching activities.   Those green eyes changed their tune to dismay and horror when I returned, armed with a five gallon bucket filled with water.   I may not be able to climb under the shrubbery, but water penetrates all the way to the corner.   He fled the scene, drenched with the contents of the bucket.  I have not caught him lurking in that corner since that day.  

I could refer to my bird feeders as the “Birdie King” for an entirely different reason.   Since I have provided shelter and food, my yard has begun to turn into a quite nice little ecosystem.   In addition to the small birds, there are lots of mice and voles and rabbits, so I  have large and small hawks hunting here by day, and great horned owls by night.  I love it when I lie in bed after all the lights are out, and hear the owl sitting in the tree right outside my bathroom window, making his/her territorial notifications.

The hawk that frequents my yard the most often is a Cooper’s hawk.   Below is an image of him I took a couple of summers ago.   Please note that he is perched on the cross bar of the pole the bird feeders hang on.   He is probably listening to a version of “One, two, three, and where’s your breakfast?” being chanted at him from the pine tree behind him.


The other day, after the recent snowfall, I was walking around the yard with my camera in hand.   In the snow before me, near that same pine tree, I saw this:


Unfortunately, before I took the picture I walked through the scene (Bad CSI detective, BAD!), so there is a big blob footprint in the middle of the bottom.   The other four marks are the wing prints the hawk made when he stooped and grabbed his lunch as it was flying by.  Notice that at the outside edges of the marks in the snow you can see the imprint of his primary feathers.   

I found these marks Just under the back side of the pine tree in the first picture.  He likes to hide out there.  Finches are of limited intelligence.   After a while, they forget that the reason they are hiding in the bushes is that a raptor has flown by, and emerge from shelter to eat once again.  Then, if you are a lucky hawk, YOU get to eat again.

I was not aware of what the marks I was seeing were the first time by.   It did make me curious, that serrated edge.  I thought perhaps Ruby had been playing with a branch of twigs, but the regular pattern bothered me.   Then I walked around the end of the pond and found this in the snow under the grape vine that climbs my privacy fence back there:


This is what is left after the hawk has dined.  He likes to sit on top of the fence and use the rail as a table.   A hawk has no manners, just efficient ripping and shredding of flesh.   The feathers are plucked out, almost impatiently, and flung off to the side with a flick of the head.   Once the skin is bare, the sharp beak tears off strips of meat.   Once I watched the hawk sit on the fence and eat about a third of the starling she had caught.  When she had reduced it in size enough that it was light enough that she could fly with it easily, she bore it off to her hawklets, waiting for lunch back at the nest.

Since I had seen this rather elemental dining activity before, I immediately recognized the place as the “carpet” under the “table” where the hawk had lunched.   When that penetrated, I immediately flashed on the mysterious marks in the snow I had just been puzzling over.  I had been privileged to see evidence not only of the meal, but of the shopping expedition as well. 

Welcome to Birdie King!  How may I help you?

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