Out For Dinner

We were in the middle of an early dinner, sitting at the kitchen table observing the late day sunshine stream through part of the back garden. A movement caught my eye and I saw a hawk land in the neighbor’s Crape Myrtle tree. The small tree’s spidery branches, jade green foliage, and lavender blooms reach up and over the privacy fence and peek into my garden, and that evening, supported a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, as it perched and scanned the landscape for a bird meal. The hawk sat for a minute or two, enough time for me to drop my fork and grab the camera. I had a fairly clear view of the big bird through the window and didn’t want to spook the hawk by going outside, so a through-the-window photo was required! The hawk didn’t sit still though, shifting its position and looking this way and that way, so a front-on photo was impossible. But I like that this shot caught its head, visually framed between two intersecting limbs.

Additionally, as it perched in this spot, the rays of the waning sun showcased the hawk’s beautiful markings. This character is a juvenile; its eyes are golden, rather than the deep red-orange of an adult bird.

The hawk’s juvenile inexperience was also evident in its behavior. Looking for who-knows-what, after a minute or so in the myrtle, it flew to the open space beneath my large red oak tree (where Woody the beehive sits) and landed on the ground. It circled, wings out, then took flight toward the house, immediately banking right and then back toward the myrtle, landing instead in my Retama tree, Parkinsonia aculeata. This tree is about 10 feet to the right of the myrtle. I suppose the hawk wanted a different look-see around the garden; after all, the birds might be easier to spot from a different angle. Because I didn’t have a good view of the hawk’s newly chosen perch, I belted to the back of my house, taking this photo through my bedroom window.

This shot, focusing on a different part of the garden, is darker. There are no direct rays of the setting sun brightening the tree’s foliage or bird’s plumage.

My year-round, resident birds–Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, Wrens, White-winged doves, and House Finches are less active now and whatever feeder activity they engage in is usually completed earlier than when this hawk showed up for dinner. I’m guessing it was hungry and is still refining its potentially formidable hunting skills, but doesn’t always meet with success. Cooper’s hawks mainly hunt birds and while I hate to see songbirds become meals, that’s the way of the natural world; that said, my neighborhood hawks are welcome to the abundant doves and seasonal starlings. I’ve been hearing lots of Blue Jay alarm calls recently and glimpse hawk action several times a week, either with the sudden scattering of multiple potential prey birds or with a large shadow through the trees.

As autumn ushers in shorter days and eventual cold and foliage drop, (not necessarily in that order), it will become easier to observe the various predators who make their homes near mine. I’ve provided a garden which both nurtures and protects prey, while tolerating predators, allowing a full circle of wild life–Bringing Nature Home. Rather than swaths of sterile turf and the non-nonnative plants garden aesthetic of the past, I grow a garden which replicates and reflects nature, supports life, and is found directly outside our windows and doors.

For some instructive reading about reclaiming nature in your own space, check out the book, Bringing Nature Home, by University of Delaware’s Professor Doug Tallamy, and his website, highlighted above.

What wild things have you observed in your garden? I hope there are plenty of wild stories to share. As well, I’m linking with Anna of Flutter and Hum for Wednesday Vignette. Happy wildlife gardening!

17 thoughts on “Out For Dinner

  1. Wonderful! We have Red tailed hawks in the nearby park. Sometimes we see them perched at the top of the trees, but not often within photography distance. I had no idea their eye color changes with age…. Does that go for Red tails too, do you know?

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    • It really was lucky. There are usually a 3-5 “landings” in my back garden between fall and late spring, but I was tickled that I could grab the camera. The photos would be better if I’d been outside, but we can’t have everything. 🙂

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  2. Many years ago I was mowing the lawn when there was a great squawking and crashing of branches. Rolling across the turf, a couple of feet in front of me, was a male Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) with a young Blackbird in it’s talons and the pair of adults mobbing it. The hawk looked at me and realised it’s quiet super was not going to plan so released the baby blackbird (who casually hopped under the hedge) and flew off chased by the adults and a pair of Mistle Thrushes! Guess he had to ring for a takeout!

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    • Great story, especially for the blackbird and his/her parents. I’ve always wondered if, after an event like that, the parents take their offspring to task: “I’ve told you before!! Look both ways before you leave the tree or the bush! When are you going to learn???? Lol, it’d be interesting to know how they respond to that situation! I’m sure your hawk found another meal somewhere.

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  3. They are so regal, aren’t they? I’m so happy when I see one in my garden…because I respect them, and because they’re good for rabbit control. I’ve noticed, too, what Automatic Gardener mentions–the other critters and birds hide when a hawk appears. I find them fascinating to watch.

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    • They really are regal. The little prey birds are very quiet once a predator is in their midst–I can always tell when one has been around. It seems to take about 20 minutes for them to recover!

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  4. I didn’t know about the change in eye color. That’s very interesting. Like you, I’ve been hearing more and more bluejay squawking, sometimes going on for five or ten minutes. Since this is the season for raptor migration, it makes sense that they might have to warn off more hawks these days.

    I was sitting at the computer a week or so ago when a hawk swooped in to my feeders, and a cloud of birds went in every direction. I don’t know whether that hawk nabbed a meal, but I suspect he’s been lurking around. I saw another one atop my neighbor’s hedge recently, scanning the territory.

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    • Yes, I’ve noticed that before and Cornell and Audubon are good about showing the different eye colors. It’s fun to see the “cloud” of birds, not for the birds I guess, but for the watchers!

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  5. If you believe that pollinating insects are in decline, which can cause a pollination crisis for food and wild plants, imagine if this decline might result in human food crises, and loss of natural biodiversity, what will happen to the next lives of humankind?

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    • It really is rather rude! I see hawks, mostly Cooper’s, all the time. Visiting my garden directly, maybe 4-5 times during fall/winter, early spring. It’s always a treat. Well, not for the little birds…:)

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  6. Your photos are quite good and shows excellent detail right down to the eye color. I stopped feeding more than a month ago simply because the Cooper’s hawk was taking too many doves – both white winged and mourning doves and I do like my doves. Even though it is nature’s way, it is not natural to create a situation where it seems to be akin to a “canned hunt.” I have stopped feeding in the past as well but I think that when I resume again I will have the feeder surrounded by lots of understory growth and thicker vegetation.

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    • Predators will eat, if there’s plenty to be had, that’s for sure. The birds are quiet right now. I’m still putting out the peanuts-in-the-shell, because the Blue Jays and squirrels like them, but other than that, there are very few visitors to the safflower and sunflower seed feeders. That said, there’s lots of activity in the trees. It’s autumn, very normal.

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