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Friday, December 11, 2009

Stokes Feeder Friday, Hawks at feeders!

Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk just flew by the feeder, diving at the birds. Don wrote this Haiku poem about it.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk stoops
Into the feeders, making
The cold day colder.

It was a chilling event for the birds, who, in addition to getting food this morning in 20 degree weather with strong winds, always have to be on the lookout for hawks, which could spell instant death for them. We watched with anxiety as the birds dove for cover in the brush pile we created near the feeder. They also sought cover in the rhododendrons we planted nearby.

On the other hand we are always excited to see a hawk. Sharpshins are quick, fierce, and agile flyers, able to zip through the trees undetected. As watchers of nature we try not to make too much of a morale judgement about the hawk. As we say, Sharp-shins are not mean, they're just hungry. They have to eat too. In addition to Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks one of the other main predators of feeder birds. Cooper's looks like a slightly larger version of the Sharp-shinned. These both are in the Accipiter group of hawks.

Here are some tips to giving your feeder birds protection from the hawks.

1. A good brush pile is worth it's weight in gold. Construct one near the feeders (about 8 or more feet away). Construct it out of cut sapling trees in a tepee fashion and add other brush and branches. Leave enough space and nooks and crannies for birds to dive into, but not too much open space so it's not protective.

2. Put other cover near feeders, or move feeders near cover. Evergreen shrubs and trees can make excellent cover. We use rhododendron clumps, arborvitae, hemlocks, and more. A good use of your old Christmas tree is to place it near the feeders. If the feeders face south and the evergreens are behind the feeders, even better. The birds can go into the evergreens and warm up and be protected from cold winds.

3. You can also use dense woody shrubs and vines for cover. In addition to the brush pile and evergreens near the feeders, we have lot of berry producing shrubs like Winterberry Holly, Highbush Cranberry Viburnum, Swamp Dogwood, Chokeberry and a few vines climbing up them. This feeds the birds, provides cover and even potential nesting spots.

4. Take comfort in the fact that the hawks do not stay around forever. Usually, after a while, the birds have so wised up to the hawks presence, it looses its advantage of surprise and it will move on.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

I like seeing the hawks at my feeders here in central CT. They have to eat, too. We should remember that the insectivore birds are predators, too. We humans seem to be OK with cold-blooded prey but we get squeamish when the prey is warm-blooded; too much like us, I guess!

It's a funny coincidence that I also wrote a Hawk-u poem when a Cooper's Hawk visited my feeder area in July; you can read it here:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/07/stealth-bomber.html

Thank you for all your wonderful work over the years; your books are part of my treasured natural history collection. I enjoy reading your blog.

Sissy said...

I wanted to thank you, these tips for out smarting the hawk are going to be our project tomorrow, even though it's Christmas Eve. We live in rural new construction with very little cover and have noticed a mark decrease in our bird visits. No sparrows, no juncos. The last two mornings, I have spotted a hawk sitting in the tree in the empty lot next door. I want to take this Christmas tree down right now and put it in the yard for our bird friends! Awesome ideas!