First Blood at the Bird Store

A little before 5pm today, Melissa called me to the back door and asked if I had my good binoculars (pish-sha, did I have my good binoculars--what kind of birdchick would I be without them?). There was a Cooper's hawk that had just grabbed something from the feeder...and it was still alive. Melissa and I tried with our binos to identify the prey being killed and left poor Denny to tend to the customers on his own. The Coop's was an immature bird probably fairly fresh from the nest and seemed confused and surprised that it not only had hold of something, but also how to keep it from moving. Every time the hawk lowered it's head to pluck feathers, the bird in its talons fluttered and tried to peck the hawk's face.

I often ponder how I would like to be killed if I were prey. As much as I love accipiters I think that would be the worst way to go. They have skinny little legs and thus do not have the squeezing and crushing power a great-horned owl or red-tailed hawk do. Cooper's seem to turn their feet into fast little squeezing devices so it almost looks like your being pricked to death by a sewing machine. If I had my choice, I think a peregrine falcon would be the best way to die. They dive at you at incredible speeds so as soon as they hit you, you would die or at worst be knocked out. When they have you in their talons on the ground, they snap your neck--you're nice and dead when they start to eat you. Accipiters start eating whether you're dead or alive, not so much fun.

Anyway, the prey finally died and the young Coops seemed to be at a loss as to what to do next. It started watching all the red-winged blackbirds and goldfinches mobbing it, still stimulated for a hunt. It would start to move and then realized that it was holding something and stay for a second. Then it started to preen it's feathers. Eventually, Denny had a chance to come out to watch and we all speculated what the prey item might be. I thought it looked large and had a white chest and speculated it was one of the you phoebes that are hanging around. Melissa thought maybe a cardinal or mourning dove. Denny thought it was a house sparrow. It looked too large to me, but some crows flew in to feed without noticing the hawk and the Coops was noticeable smaller than the crows, indicating that it was a male and that the prey was not as large as I thought it was.

Once we were sure the prey was dead, we started to invite customers back to look at hawk (you never know how people feel about the food chain) and they were pretty excited to see it. It was time for Denny to leave but his car was near the hawk and he didn't want to flush it off its prey. I pointed out that the young Coops had left the prey on a branch and was preening a couple of feet away from it so it probably wasn't that hungry. Denny went to his car which was parked near the Coops--the bird didn't flush! We thought for sure that when Denny drove away, that the hawk would flush. Denny drove by and the hawk stayed. Denny turned to look at me, shrugged in disbelief and continued home.

Melissa was leaving next and she has a big old mini van, surely that would flush the young Coops. No.

At 6pm when it was time to close the store, the hawk started eating in earnest plucking feathers everywhere. I closed the door and periodically watched the hawk. When I had the store secured, I noticed the hawk was gone. I thought I would go out to see if the bird had left any evidence of what it ate. When I approached the feeding area, the hawk flew up off of the ground and perched. It must have dropped the prey and continued eating it on the ground. I was ten feet from the hawk and took the photo at the beginning of this entry. Note that the hawk is sitting on one foot meaning it was completely relaxed and not bothered by me a bit. I snapped some photos and went back into the store. After another ten minutes, the Coops flew off. I went out hoping to find some carnage to investigate but found very few clues as to the hawk's meal--it ate almost everything.

Based on the bird's behavior and tolerance of humans, I couldn't help but wonder if this was the bird's first official kill? I did manage to find a couple feathers and thanks to my new Bird Tracks and Signs Book that I just bought, I was able to enjoy studying the few feathers I found. The feather on the left has two creases along the shaft. That is where the hawk had placed it's bill when plucking the feather out. Notice the punctures on the plumage of the feather on the right? Those were probably made by the bill while plucking as well. I compared the feathers, with feathers in the book and it looks like Denny was correct, it did eat a house sparrow.