Sitting in my new, husband-made Adirondack chairs, I mulled needed changes to the back garden. As I gazed outward toward the targeted area, considering what needs to go, what needs to stay, and what replacements are best, or desired, I glanced to my left, up and over my privacy fence, to my back neighbor’s mostly dead Arizona Ash. The poor ash might be dead, but it regularly hosts plenty of life, including this gorgeous, immature Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, who was enjoying dinner.

(Just a warning: there’s a slightly gross photo coming, not too bad, but if you’re squeamish, you might want to move on to some other reading.)

I watched this magnificent bird for about an hour, by far the longest period of time I’ve ever observed a hawk. I’ve seen this hawk plenty of times, swooping through the trees and gliding over the neighborhood in search of prey, but it’s a rare treat to watch a raptor for such a long time, relatively up close and personal, and not startle it away. A few years ago–in the Before Times–I spent some time observing a hawk in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, dining on some of SF’s finest. That was bird nerd entertainment, but this observation of the Cooper’s Hawk’s meal time, comfortably in my own garden, was fascinating and revealing. As the hawk pulled and stretched its meal, I could hear the slight snap of skin and sinew. As it plucked its prey, feathers, big and small, sleek and fluffy, floated down, probably settling in the neighbor’s pool. I imagine those feathers are still floating. During the meal, some small, downy feathers attached to the hawk’s sharp beak–as in the first photo. The hawk didn’t mind the bit of fluff as it ate.

The hawk was focused on this meal, hungry no doubt. I’m sure its hunting isn’t always successful; I’ve seen it swoop through the neighborhood trees, scattering birds, but flying off empty-taloned. This time, the hawk was victorious; the poor White-winged dove a victim of the hawk’s hunger and hunting prowess.

At one point, something startled the hawk and it mantled over the meal, keeping a keen eye out for someone intent on stealing. I didn’t see anything that would threaten dinner, and within a minute or so, Hawk was back at it: pulling, eating. Later, a group of noisy Blue Jays voiced disapproval of the hawk’s activity, but none ventured too close and kept a respectful distance while Hawk continued its meal, undisturbed and unimpressed with the Jays’ cawing. The Jays flew off in a huff.

Such a beautiful hawk. As it matures, the streaking on the chest and tummy will become more of a red and white checker-board pattern. Its wings and back feathers will turn slate grey. The hawk’s eye color will morph from its current golden to burnt orange. Cooper’s Hawks dine mainly on birds, but I’ve seen one with a squirrel, and I’m sure when hapless rat comes within catching range, they eat them, too. Raptors eat what they can catch. Cooper’s Hawks are common in urban settings and have adapted well thanks to the number of people who feed birds; there are plenty of birds to pick from, especially fat doves!

While I watched Hawk, someone else was at dinner, too. This juvenile or female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri worked the flowers of nearby Turks’ cap. As it’s early October, most of the males have migrated, but I’m still enjoying the zooming, chirping, and chasing of the females and juveniles. They’ll be gone soon too, headed south to Mexico and Central America.

Just as I acknowledged my own rumbly in my tumbly, being ready for dinner, Hawk flew off, the remains of his catch firmly in talon, ready to settle in for the evening with snack for later.

It’s a Kind of Magic

I took this photo of a (probably) female Black-chinned HummingbirdArchilochus alexandri, several weeks ago.  She was guarding a stand of blooming Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, with all vigor and spunk.  That’s the hummingbird way, after all:  tough and territorial, they fight with one another for the pick of nectar sources, and in this particular case and as it’s so late in the season, I’m certain she was preparing for her flight south, her fueling for migration a requirement for survival.

I doubt if the British rock band, Queen, had bird migration in mind with their 1986 song, It’s a Kind of Magic, but I find the pull and drive for migration an enigma, something so astonishing that it’s hard to fathom, and something pulsing with a kind of magic.

Nevertheless, here in my oak tree, resting between sips of Turk’s cap nectar and bullies of other hummingbirds, she looks quiet and contemplative.  I wonder–does she think about her journey, or is she driven purely by instinct, by forces beyond her control?

Does she plan her trip? Does she fear it?

The Turk’s cap blooms are done for the year, the hummingbird gone; I hope my garden provided what she and her kind needed. Please, may she return in spring to guard next season’s blooms.

Appreciative for the gifts a garden bestows, I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

*The Queen video is comprised of work from visual artists worldwide, submitted to accompany the song.  It’s a fun one!*

Hummingbird Horseplay

Hummingbird wars–that’s what I call the zooming, zipping, and general territory defending that the teensy winged wonders engage in, especially toward the end of their time here in Central Texas.  Hummingbirds are now preparing for their fall migration (some have already left), and their wintering in Mexico and Central America.  This summer, I’ve observed both a male and female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, in my garden, though I was never able to get clear captures of either.  Here,



…a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, rests while surveying her territory, also known as my back garden.  The literature about the Ruby-throated suggests that the male is the main aggressor, defending his territory and food sources with great vim and vigor, but I’ve noticed that both genders appear enthusiastically antagonistic to encroachments by critters, especially when those critters are other hummingbirds. Though it isn’t always other hummers that are chased;  in July I witnessed a female chase a Carolina Chickadee around the garden–that was a hoot!

I employ in a bit of eye-rolling when I hear people exclaim how “mean” hummingbirds are, as if human beings can pass judgement on any other creature in the nastiness quotient.  I usually respond to the hummingbirds-are-mean comments with a you’d be mean too, if you were tiny and vulnerable, traveled alone for hundreds to thousands of miles, back and forth, attempting to locate enough food to survive and thrive while doing so.  The hummingbird’s migration is a feat that requires a certain level of courage and I’m certainly not going to pass judgement on any critter with that kind of chutzpah.

This is the same (?) or perhaps another, female Ruby-throated enjoying a quick junk-food snack of sugar syrup.


I haven’t hung a hummingbird feeder for quite a few years, but bought one this year in a weak moment.  I grow lots of plants that hummers love:  Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus,  is a huge favorite,


…but they also love Yellow BellsTecoma stans, as well as most plants in the salvia family.  But when these adorable birds are feeding, they’re often far across the garden and not easily seen as they move about the shrubs and around the limbs of plants.  For purely selfish reasons, I hung a feeder on the back patio cover to better observe and enjoy their visits.  They chase one another from the feeder, buzzing past the astonished and thrilled gardener.  Hummers also demonstrate possessiveness with their favorite plants, too. Throughout August and into September, one male Ruby-throat claimed three Turk’s Cap shrubs in my back garden as HIS!  He spent lots of calories defending his particular nectar-loaded buffet.

To augment their liquid diet with protein, hummingbirds eat a variety of insects like mosquitoes (not nearly enough, if you ask me), flies and even aphids, which  are plucked off of plants.

The Ruby-throated is so named for the brilliant red feathers adorning the throat of the male of the species.   This male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, rested in my Desert WillowChilopsis linearis,


…but wasn’t situated quite right for the show of scarlet feathers.  At off angles, the feathers appear rusty-brown to dull red.  After this photo was taken the bird flew away from the tree and toward me in hot pursuit of another hummer which I didn’t see at first. That ruby-red throat came directly at me, in brilliant, flashing color. You’ll  have to take my word for it because I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to capture a bird flying that fast.


As cool fronts move through Central Texas over the next few weeks, the remaining hummingbirds will wing their way south, surfing blustery winds.  I’ve notice fewer hummingbird antics this past week; Mr.That-Turk’s-Cap-is-mine-Mine-MINE!!  is no longer around and I think  one or two of the female visitors are gone. There are the occasional hummers who overwinter here, but mostly they reside in sunny Mexico until spring migration northward.  They’ll be back in my garden next spring for their courting, during summer for raising chicks, and in early autumn, careening around the garden, chasing each other and providing entertainment for this gardener and backyard birder.

And since I think the hummingbirds are looking good in my gardenI’m joining with Gillian at Country Garden UK and her new Looking Good in the Garden meme, which will be a regular Friday feature.   Pop on over to read about what’s looking good in her garden, as well as other gardens.