Monday, January 16, 2012

Our new Sharp-shinned Hawk—and the other side of birding...

Yesterday while brushing my teeth, I was looking out the bathroom window at the peanut feeder hanging from our Ash Tree. About 10 European Starlings were clambering over it, trying to each get a peanut. With such a ruckus, I wondered why I had never seen a hawk take down a starling in our backyard. They are numerous and large, are easy to spot, and would make a good meal. It only seemed logical. As the thought was leaving my head, the Sharp-shinned Hawk that's new to our yard swooped in and grabbed one of the outermost starlings, sinking to the ground with it in one graceful move. Holy Cow! I couldn't believe it. I've never seen anything happen in real life as I conjured the thought in my head! The Sharp-shinned Hawk must have been hiding in the huge pine trees next to the feeder. A few days earlier I had watched the same Sharp-shinned Hawk, who had been hiding in a tangle of branches in the Weeping Willow tree, burst out in pursuit of a Northern Cardinal. The cardinal out maneuvered the hawk and got away. The starling wasn't as lucky...

This winter has brought a new "regular" to our backyard—a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We've had Sharp-shins visit our yard every now and then, but they have never stuck around. Cooper's Hawks always seemed to prefer our yard, but now that the magnificent "hawk branch" has fallen, a Sharp-shinned has shown up. He doesn't seem to need a perfect lookout. He seems to like hiding in the tangles of the Weeping Willow or the thick branches of the pine trees.

Rick was the first to spot this fellow. He called him out to me saying, "look at that tiny hawk!" I scrambled to the window, and sure enough, a Sharp-shinned Hawk was perched in the Weeping Willow. Compared to the Cooper's Hawks that usually visit our yard, he is much, much smaller, but just as lethal.

When I look at photos, it's really hard for me to tell a Sharp-shinned Hawk from a Cooper's Hawk. I know Sharp-shins are supposed to have squared-off tails, be broader at the shoulders and narrower at the hips, and that a small, male Cooper's hawk can look like a large, female Sharp-shinned Hawk, but out in the yard, it's easier to tell them apart. They perch in different areas and the Sharp-shinned Hawk is noticeably smaller. His legs are so thin and his middle toe seems extra long too. Click here for a detailed description on Cornell's Project FeederWatch site to learn how to tell a Sharp-shinned Hawk from a Cooper's Hawk.

...after taking down the Starling, the hawk sat on the ground with the bird for a moment or two. He then lifted up, carrying the Starling with him to the woods near the back of our neighbor's yard. The Starling was nearly as big as the Sharp-shinned Hawk. I was surprised at how the hawk was able to take off so easily.

Afterwards, I went outside to see if any evidence of the hawk's attack was left behind. At first I saw nothing, but then droplets of blood stood out. Sharp-shinned Hawks' talons are very sharp, so it should not have been a surprise, but I was still a little shocked to see the blood splatters on the leaves. I wasn't going to include this shot, but it seemed important. It's the other part of bird watching.

If you want to see a Cooper's Hawk eating his prey, and compare it to this Sharp-shinned Hawk, click here for an earlier post.

26 comments:

Betsy from Tennessee said...

OH My... Starlings aren't my favorite birds by a long shot---but I hate to see that happen... Hawks are gorgeous birds ---but I'm glad we don't have them near here... I know they are in the Glade --but I've only seen one closeby ONE time since we moved here. The crows around here seem to protect the smaller birds...

Hugs,
Betsy

Montanagirl said...

I have a hard time telling them apart too. Very informative post, Kelly!

Elaine said...

It must have felt rather eerie to see the scene you were thinking about play out in front of you, just as if you had conjured it up just by thinking about it. It is a shock when you see the predator capture his prey so close at hand. A few years ago I had a Northern Shrike that was hunting at my feeders, and mostly he missed as all the little Redpolls escaped as he swooped down, but I saw him take one Redpoll right in front of my window. I didn't feel good about it at all, but as you say it's the other part of bird watching, and part of the natural order of things. Very shortly the flock was back feeding as usual.

Bob Bushell said...

Wow, a Sharp-shinned Hawk sizes its prey, beautiful photos.

Wanda..... said...

Aren't they graceful and quick... while sitting on the front porch I once saw a Hawk take a Finch in midair just 10 ft. in front of me.

Jeni said...

Magnificent photos Kelly.

I was noting the other day driving down the highway that Hawks (don't know one kind from another) seem more out in the open this winter than normal. I even saw one sitting on the top of an highway exit sign.

Roy said...

Yeah, I often have problems telling them apart, especially juveniles. Since I'm a hawk enthusiast, I don't get worked up over their hunting, and in fact I'd probably cheer for one taking down one of those messy, filthy, pestilential Starlings.

TexWisGirl said...

i'm surprised they are so small! always thought of them as larger hawks!

Carol Mattingly said...

Love this post Kelly. Carol

Scott said...

Awesome. Great that you have both species perching in your yard on occasion.
I had a difficult time deciding on the ID for a hawk that got a sparrow in our yard. I settled on Sharp-shinned. I haven't seen a lot of the two species, and it sure wasn't in the yard long!
The only other time I have seen a hawk in the yard and got a photo, I settled on juvenile Cooper's.
What do you think?
http://scottland.posterous.com/sharp-shinned-hawk
http://scottland.posterous.com/suddenly-the-yard-is-quiet

Robert Mortensen said...

Cool...the blood drops even. I had a cute little Sharpie stalking my winter brush pile for the birds. I got some terrible pics of it. But always neat to have on in the yard.

Gillian Olson said...

Great pictures and thanks for the details on this hawk. It is a bit of a shock when a hawk takes a bird from or around the feeder, but I guess they need to eat too.

dAwN said...

Oh My..How Graphic! I Love it!

Little Brown Job said...

Cracking images Kelly, it is a bit of a double edged sword having these wonderful birds visit the garden.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Wow that must have been quite the experience especially when you sort of foretold it. I do appreciate you including the details of the kill that is part of the process.

All the best.
Guy

Laure Ferlita said...

Guy's gotta eat, you know!

All kidding aside and even knowing it's the natural order of things, we sometimes forget the brutality of seeing nature in action.

Great post.

Tammie Lee said...

oh my! that is something to witness! and the bits of blood are evidence to make a heart speed up. a fast death is a better one than suffering.

thank you for sharing your story.

abirdersnotebook said...

Kelly, last winter I heard something hit the front window to our dining room. Underneath the window we planted 2 Barberry bushes, which have these tiny thorns. The House Sparrows are always hiding in there, however on this day a Cooper's Hawk decided to go after one. When I went to the window the Hawk was right there. If the window was open I could have reached through and touch it. The bird finally struggled out of the bush and made it's escape, without a sparrow for lunch.

Marvin said...

Great shots of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. If we feed the birds, we're gonna feed the hawks too. That's just the way it is.

Roy said...

There is a lesson here Kelly, you shouldn't think so much.{:))
They are a bit like our Sparrowhawk, fast as the speed of light almost.

Chris said...

Oh wow! That's what we call nature! Incredible and this guy seems to be a really good predator. Well your starlings might have to be careful in the future! Beautiful post Kelly.

KAT said...

wow powerful birds those hawks even the smaller ones
-KAT-

E said...

Great photos, Kelly, good timing, sad story.
All the pics before, very beautiful. You are so brilliant and artistic. Brava!
Congrats and many hugs.

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone! Well, our Sharp-shinned was back again today, but I didn't see him nab anything. He really is so much different in his perching from the Cooper. Today, he sat on the ground near a bush and hid from the birds. I've never seen a Cooper do that.

Elva Paulson said...

At least your sharp-shinned hawk killed a rather unpopular bird. A few years ago we had a SS (Sharp-shined hawk) pestering our feeder all too regularily. I noticed he had killed a pine siskin and was plucking -- so I grabbed my sketchbook and started sketching. Twenty minutes later he finished the tiny morsel ( a pine siskin is just a gram or two heavier than a chickadee).

The SS looked about and jumped down onto pine siskin #2 who had been hiding. Another 20 min passed while the SS ate this one. Remember siskins are quite small. And then the SS dropped down into the bushes again and nailed pine siskin #3! He flew off with that one.

Kelly said...

...interesting, Elva....It's like he was eating the Siskins as snacks. I guess you put a lot of siskins together... It sounds like he didn't have to work too hard for them.