Thursday, January 17, 2013

hawk puzzle -- how DO I get that tasty morsel?

Moments ago, a hawk landed on something outside the garden,
but then danced around the fence for SO LONG,
I thought it might be stuck.

I want to EAT you!

How do I... ? 

Help, anyone?

The best dance moves were when I had my regular lens on,
so the next 2 images are TINY & fuzzy (sun's not there, yet),
but this creature was WORKING!
I think it's flipped upside-down in the 1st, and recovering in the 2nd.


In an earlier shot its head was through the fence,
and it looks like in the above its head is through the fence again,
and its entire body is flipped to get closer to the target. 

.... annnnd down.

Mind you, I couldn't yet see what was going on w/my weak Homo sapiens eyes.

So, in case it the bird was stuck, I armed myself with
2 bath towels (to fling over hawk as I freed its feet),
a pair of strong scissors (to cut garden twine, whatever),
sunglasses (protect eyeballs from freaked-out talons),
leather gloves,
and zipped up my insulated vest to cover my jugular.

You think I kid.
I kid not.

How embarrassing would it be to be killed
by a 6 ounce hawk's stray talon jamming into my jugular?
Esp. for a professional biologist?
Who has handled rattlesnakes and chased off mountain lions?


I walked slowly toward it, it screams at me,
lifts off, and lands on the nearest post.
And stays.

So, I figure it's okay,
I'll back off and let it continue. Whatever it's doing.

So, is that gawky biped gone, now?

Ohhhh... my breakfast is on the OTHER side of this thing!

Thus, it flew to the inside of the fence, grabbed its meal, and exited stage right.

Seems it'd landed on something just outside the fence,
which ended up on the other side.
Hence hawk dance to try and get the goodie back.

Then I scouted for evidence of what the target was...

 Breakfast bird
So, looking at the feathers, perhaps a yellow-rumped warbler?
Or an American or lesser goldfinch?
Looks like goldfinches are more likely here in winter that the butter-butt.

Thoughts? Please fling ideas my way...

First guessed it was a cooper's hawk. Habit.
They're v. common here.
Then saw this photo (fm. my reg. lens) after studying the field guide,
and saw the SQUARE tipped tail (I think?),
so now I think it's a sharp-shinned hawk.

What do you think? Please weigh in re: 2 spp. ID.

Either way, this was a super interesting event to watch.

And, yesterday I saw a hawk land on something
within yards of today's event, and it seemed to be shielding.
I just learned from birdchick (thanks!!) that raptor "mantling" is more precise.

[Woah! Google raptor mantling & hit "images." COOL STUFF!]

Mantling is when a raptor holds its wings/tail out
 to hide its prey from view (competitors, etc.).
This made a beautiful display of its wing & tail feathers--stripes everywhere!

Unfortunately the sharp-eyed hawk was staring at me,
so when I reached slowwwly for my camera, it took off.


Speaking of, I have to take off, too.


=) xobb


  1. What a fabulous bit of bird behavior you got to observe (and so entertainingly write about)!

    I have no useful comments about the type of prey, beyond, "yeah, something yellow seems about right!"

    As for the type of hawk: I have given up on trying to distinguish between Cooper's and sharp-shinned, since looking in Sibley's guide always just makes me laugh in a manic, despairing way. I think the only way to actually identify one definitely is to have it stand next to one of the other species, ideally while also obligingly standing next to a ruler. I think the two species names should just be combined, much like celeb-couples' names are: the Coop-shinned hawk, maybe, or the Sharper's hawk.

    1. How about a Shooper's? This was definitely one of those three. =)

      Yes, it can be (morosely) amusing to look at the field guide pics of SUPER similar (sympatric) species. I remember trying to learn from books how to distinguish between very similar mouse species. In the field, mind you, with the live animal. Not the cleaned out skull so I can look for tiny dental differences... yow.

      I think name tags would be very helpful...

  2. These hawks aren't on Facebook?! How very annoying :o(

    1. Agreed. If only they would tweet! (sorry, had to go there...)

  3. cool observations...and series of shots.
    if the prey on the other side of the fence was a little bird...i wonder why it didn't fly away after all that commotion of the hawk trying to squeeze through the fence?!! guess it was already a goner, huh??

    1. Yes, that was certainly my assumption. Nailed in the back of the head (most popular way for raptors to kill their prey) and, well, I don't really want to think about it. But, yes, unable to leave under its own steam is my assumption.

  4. Great photos of this Sharp-shinned Hawk! The two species (Cooper's & Sharpie) are distinguishable beyond comparing sizes, you just have to know the long list of field marks to compare....Based on the tiny legs, smudgier breast streaking, tapered body and round head (as a well as apparent size) this is a Sharpie - Cooper's (noticeably larger) have larger legs, crisper streaks, a tubular body and a flat topped head. To me, one of the best ways to tell them apart is by the "feel" of the face (which takes a lot of looking to come to recognize). A Sharpie, like yours, has a very intense and scrunched look to me. Tail, as you mentioned is another way but it's certainly more variable. In general, Sharpies have equal length tail feathers which give a squared look, which the uneven feathers of a Cooper's give a rounded tail.

    1. Deeper and deeper. I wondered about the thickness of the streaks on the breast, but really couldn't come to a conclusion as am inexpert. Thanks VERY much for your input, I appreciate it!

  5. This accipiter looks like a Sharp-shinned to me. The thick streaking far down the front as well as the squared off tail (visible in the last picture) are my best pieces of evidence.


Cool people write inside rectangles....