Saturday, February 9, 2008

I Will Survive

We had a backyard "Survival of the Fittest" episode a couple of weeks ago. I was working at home late in the week when there was an urgent shout from the living room, "Hawk's got something! Hawk's got something!"

Reina, my almost-four-year-old daughter, and I barely looked at each other, not interpreting, just knowing we needed to go now. We ran until we reached the living room window, slowed and peered around the curtains. I immediately looked into the trees where the regular-Sharpie and irregular-Cooper's typically perch. I assume that one day a goshawk will perch there, but it hasn't happened yet.

We were looking too far. A Cooper's Hawk was at the base of the feeders, barely 30 feet away, mantling over something we couldn't see but knew was there. "It grabbed something off the ground. Maybe a Mourning Dove?" offered my wife, who had witnessed the attack, and was now watching a wide-eyed Reina. "Umm, so what should we do?" After teachable moment about the circle of life and a raptors-have-to-eat-too explanation of what was happening, I reached for the camera . . . which I had left in the kitchen.

The luckiest Blue Jay in the world?

By the time I got back the Cooper's had disappeared, leaving a screaming Blue Jay on the ground. The attack had lasted about a minute, we had assumed the powerful talons of the Cooper's were puncturing the jay, but after a few minutes the jay half-lurched, half-flew across the yard to a Boxus shrub next to the window where we were watching. The squat, thick, branch-heavy evergreen plant would protect it in case of a follow up attempt, which did come. The Cooper's abruptly appeared, choosing to perch in the expected spot across the yard, not coming near the now-silent jay.

The Cooper's makes a second trip through our yard,
perhaps looking for the prey lost in the earlier attack.

The hawk disappeared, peace descended on our yard, but only for a short while. Then the hawk bombed through again, scattering Dark-eyed Juncos from under the feeder.

We assume the jay survived, at least through the afternoon. Reina and I went out to check on it, perhaps to collect it if it hadn't survived, but it flushed somewhat unsteadily to a brush pile across the yard. We sprinkled sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts around the base of the pile so it wouldn't need to come into the open while the adrenaline subsided. We then saw it fly from the brush pile to a tangle of Multiflora rosa.

Although there were snow impressions of the attack and the path the jay took to the shrub I didn't find any blood, and hardly any feathers. We've been watching for a bedraggled jay at the feeders but we haven't seen any battle-scarred individuals. In fact, we've noticed our jay numbers have decreased since this attack.

The Cooper's is making regular sweeps through our yard. When I started writing this post a couple of days ago it was perched in a backyard tree, seeming to scope the feeders.

This afternoon Reina and I were reading on the couch. Some motion outside the window caught our attention, something was different in the oak tree. It was the Cooper's again, nearly upside down on a relatively thin branch, flapping furiously. It disappeared as suddenly as it arrived, leaving a snowfall of feathers.

"Whoa, didn't miss that time." Reina turned to look at me, nodding. "The hawk needs to eat."

She learned that lesson, but we're still watching the feeders for the surviving Blue Jay.
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