Dinner

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.

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!

Eat or be Eaten

I watched the Downy WoodpeckerDryobates pubescens, for several minutes.   She was rock-still:  nothing moved, not a feather, despite the gentle sway of the feeder and the clasped piece of peanut in her beak.  Because she was motionless–abnormal for a bird–I realized that there must be a predator nearby.

I Downy-watched from my kitchen window, my favorite bird blind.  Even with my movements at the window–slow and careful, as not to startle the little bird–she didn’t move: no head turn, no shuffle of claws, no gulp of the prized peanut, nor snatch of another.  From my standing position, no predator was obvious, so I squatted at the window, looking up into the oak tree just beyond and around at the outdoors as best I could see.

I finally spotted that which froze, in fear, the heart of the would-be feeding woodpecker. The culprit perched far across my property, high in the neighbors’ elm tree.

The photo is poor, taken through the window and at some distance, with plenty of foliage and limbs as distractions.  The hawk is a big one, probably a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, as they’re common here, especially in autumn, winter, and early spring.

The Downy was still for a good five minutes, maybe longer.  Finally the hawk took flight toward my house, but high above.  A split second afterwards the Downy pushed off from the feeder, heading in the same direction as the hawk, though much farther below and toward the protection of a large evergreen shrub.

I don’t know if the hawk swooped in for the woodpecker, though I doubt that’s what happened; there’s too much cover which would serve as safety for the woodpecker and too much interference for the hawk’s dive.  I imagine the hawk winged to another part of the neighborhood in search of an easier catch, one less aware of the hawk’s existence.

It was an eat or be eaten life-cycle moment.  I’m certain the woodpecker finally ate her peanut, because I’ve seen her since.  And I’m equally certain the hawk found something to eat; I’m just not sure what, when, or where.

Appreciative for the life lessons 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.