Feathers, Feathers Everywhere!












Let me tell you this. Nature is truly awe inspiring! A few posts back I shared some pictures of the foxes that made a den under our front porch. In a few weeks the kits will venture out from the den and begin playing; pouncing on one another, as they did last spring. I am truly blessed to live where nature is very prominent. We have foxes, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and a plethora of birds, and today I was about to meet a new one!

Since retiring, I’ve had the luxury of observing nature where I live for hours at a time, usually taking long strolls. Well, about two weeks ago, I decided I’d start bird watching, or birding as it is otherwise known. My son and I went to a bird store, purchased a feeder, a post, some food, and a book called “Birds of New York“. Well, my son and I have spent some quality time searching for new birds to identify as we take hikes around the island. It’s been a great way to get some exercise and spark his interest in wildlife. He’s developed a keen eye, and is simply overjoyed when he spots a bird we haven’t seen before. I highly recommend it for introducing children to nature.

I also would like to add that, for me at least, watching birds at my feeder is very relaxing. Between my son and I, we have identified black-capped chickadees, purple finches, American goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmouses, and red-bellied woodpeckers to just name a few. Also, all of those types of birds are daily visitors to the bird feeder in our front yard. Believe it or not, I’ve even been able to get the chickadees to take seeds from my hands! It’s quite a feeling to have a wild bird land in your hand, move his head from side to side while he looks you in the eye, take a seed, and eat it in a nearby tree! I’ve grown quite fond of the company my feathery friends provide as they feast at my feeder and I enjoy my morning cigar. Well, this morning I identified yet another avian compatriot of New York and Long Island; the sharp-shinned hawk!

It was like any other morning on my front porch: I was enjoying a cigar, a cup of coffee, and I was watching the birds gorging on bird seed. The squirrel was sitting on the squirrel feeder, eating a peanut, then opening the lid to get another. Suddenly, the squirrel took off like a thoroughbred race horse out of the gate! He ran across the road to his tree, and ran up it like a rocket! A few birds took off, but the ones in the caged feeder (it keeps the larger, annoying birds like starlings and crows from devouring the seed) stayed put. Then it happened: out of seemingly no where, I saw a larger bird chasing a chickadee! To be more accurate, I HEARD the larger bird before I actually SAW it, it’s feathers loudly ruffling as it twisted and turned. The smaller bird zigged and zagged in and out of a few trees, the larger bird on it’s tail mimicking it’s every movement! I watched as feathers flew from both birds, and it seemed as though the larger bird was about to catch it’s prey, and then: just like that, the larger bird flew up high in a tree, it’s energy spent.

I fumbled for my binoculars, knocking my cigar off it’s perch and onto the porch floor. I scanned the tree, and observed the larger bird, hoping to later look it up in my book. It’s beak was curved, and I immediately thought it, “this must be that hawk I’ve seen gliding above.” I had seen this bird floating on the air high above several times, but by the time I found my binoculars, it had always floated away in. It had bright yellow eyes, and a golden chest. Most of it’s body was gray, except for the chest. It’s sharp claws were yellow as well, and it turned it’s head from side to side a few times, then off it went.

I immediately dove for my bird book! I searched the index for hawks, and found that there were four hawks native to New York. The first one listed was the broad-winged hawk. I looked at the picture in the book, and it didn’t look familiar. It was also listed as 14-19 inches, and that was a little too big for the one I saw. Next was Cooper’s hawk. This one could be it, but again, the size of 14-20 inches seemed too big. I looked up the next one; red-tailed hawk. I immediately disqualified this hawk since it was even larger at 19-25 inches. I anxiously checked the last hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk. “Very similar to the Cooper’s hawk, only smaller.” BINGO! That was the bird I saw!

I read the description, and the book said it was a common backyard hawk that often swooped in on birds eating at feeders. Such a sneak! I have to say, it was pretty amazing to watch the encounter, and it felt good observing the bird for a minute then looking it up in the bird book. I am happy that the hawk didn’t catch the chickadee, but hey, that’s nature. I’m sure the hawk spends a lot less time hungry than the fox does, since it has not only an ample supply of prey, but also the means to catch it. It made me think how it must feel to be in the wild, one minute enjoying a fine meal of easily obtained seed, and the next fleeing for your life with your predator not inches away! Watching all that energy being spent trying to catch food made me hungry, so I went inside and dined on a delicious piece of veal. I didn’t even have to catch it! But hey, I’m just a cop.

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***UPDATE: When I got home this evening, the fox had just caught and killed a squirrel.

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