Sunday, December 28, 2008

This is difficult to see well (and for a larger version simply click the image itself) -- taken from my front steps, this is a Cooper's hawk in the pine tree a few feet away, devouring a recently-caught sparrow.
Arriving home from my in-law's on Christmas Day, I stepped out of the car and immediately noticed a small quantity of downy feathers drifting on the cold breeze. As I helped my son out of the back seat more feathers tumbled past, and I realized they seemed to be coming from our front yard. Two pine trees stand close together atop a short hill, next to our front sidewalk, and the feathers were in fact falling lazily but steadily from the nearer tree. As I came up the sidewalk, the arrangement of the branches afforded a perfect view of the hawk: easily 12 to 14 inches tall, ripping small tufts from the carcass of a songbird and utterly indifferent to my stare. I took my son in the house, pointed out the hawk to his father, grabbed my camera and came back out to get a few shots -- the hawk hadn't moved, and ignored me completely as I cursed the inadequacies of my inexpensive camera.
A beautiful bird, the hawk, and hard to resent in spite of its taste for that which I strive to attract to our backyard feeders. Last winter I stepped out the front door and saw what at first looked like blood spattered across the snow -- it turned out to be many tiny cardinal feathers, strewn widely, the result of being taken with force on the wing. A hawk will dive swiftly and silently from a height, killing the smaller bird instantly on impact as it intercepts a flight path. My spouse once saw possibly this same hawk stoop to take a squirrel in the alleyway behind our garage, appearing suddenly huge out of nowhere as it scooped up the squealing gray squirrel and flapped a short distance away to pause and eat.
They patrol the space between houses in the city, gliding silently from yard to yard in search of pigeon or rodent. We saw an enormous Broad Wing hawk coming up through the trees just a few blocks away not long ago, and once I spotted a juvenile hawk sitting on the ground on the verge of a small, thick hedge, cocking his head this way and that as a group of sparrows shrilled at him from within the shrubs. He was doubtless wondering how he might get at them, there in the neighbor's front yard.

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