Do You Like Them or Loathe Them?
Do you want to discourage the carnage that results when these sharks of the sky make an appearance? Well, you can’t stop it, but you can make it more difficult for them to be successful predators depending on the variety of hawk.
This area gets the full gamut of NYS hawk and falcon in all four seasons. I get them in my garden because of the very close proximity to the Niagara Gorge and the continuous feeding of their prey, minus the rodent variety hopefully. Many of the birds will overwinter here in Western New York, so hungry they come.
Well, hello beautiful…
f10 1/200 ISO 400 (click to enlarge those eyes, they are intense)
From the large Red-tailed, to the Cooper’s, many hawks fly the friendly skies. We have the smaller hawks visit, like the Sharp-shinned to the American Kestrel, a fast and sneaky hunter.
f5.6 1/1600 ISO 400 – 400mm zoom
I have the gory photos of hawks making a kill in my yard, long before the shelter plants filled in within the newly designed garden. Birds had not yet had a safe place to retreat since it was a complete redesign.
A Red-tailed surrounded with bright red cardinal feathers, talon deep in blood soaked snow, or the Sharp-shinned feasting on a dismembered dove, were some of the images I shot. When a hawk kills, it is true gore.
The gorge gets the Golden Eagle and also the scavenger birds like the Turkey Vultures. Turkey Vultures have been here, but not the Golden Eagle. The yard is far too small for both to visit with that enormous wing span. The Turkey Vultures were doing a repeated low flyby.
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You might have guessed that yard size plays a big part in raptor visits. There have been three Red-tailed hawks in the Black Walnut at one time one lean winter, but that is an oddity. Usually they come singularly and only when really hungry, will they make an attempt where they might sustain injury.
f5.6 1/2000 ISO 280 – 400mm zoom
Once a Red-tailed was battling a squirrel in the pear tree, and had I not intervened, the squirrel would have been toast. Fearing the worst for both parties, I intervened. Afraid the Red-tailed would get a broken wing in the fight that ensued, it was the only option.
Having a yard heavily planted affords the prey a place of safety as explained and showed in the last post. Also noted, there are hawks that can maneuver in tight vegetation. The one you see in this post is the Sharp-shinned hawk, an agile flyer and one that can hunt on the wing.
You see the Sharp-shinned perching in both the pear tree and the French Lilac in photos on various days this past week. A couple of this hawk visit daily and are very comfortable in the yard despite not yet taking a bird here.
I was asked how I get them to land in my pear tree? Well, if you have been following, it is because I pruned large branches for perching and thinned the pear, making for easy landing and take off. You might say I encouraged their visit, but even I was surprised they landed ten feet in front of me. But now I know how to get them in the tree and not on the fence!
So why is this bird not catching food since it has a prime stalking position?
The reason, the tight quarters and all the places the small birds can hide in my yard.
The one bird comes back each day and leaves empty beaked. I did see him catch a sparrow on the wing, so he is successful in my neighbor’s yard. The sparrow was flying to the 90 foot spruce and made its fatal last flight. The winged talons swooped in from above, gripped the sparrow and it was quickly curtains.
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One may have captured and lost this cardinal too. As much as I like to believe “my” birds are safe, I am realistic about what they face. This cardinal had her portrait taken in my post on Cardinals because I believe her days were numbered with the injury she sustained, likely from a hawk.
Hawks target larger birds because there is more reward for the effort. Why risk injury on mere morsels like a sparrow when there are slow-moving doves, cardinals and blue jays about? The hawk above was targeting a jay (yes, she got it). Sorry this was not a better image, the action happens unexpectedly and very fast. I was just happy to get it at all.
This poor girl below, has a leg she cannot bend or bring close to her body. I did not see the Cardinal get attacked, but really feel bad for her.
She pathetically hops along on one leg, dragging the injured leg in a right angle, stationary position. The feet still grasp, so I am unsure of the damage she incurred, but judging by the feathers lost, it really does look like she escaped a talon. I have seen talon damage on the squirrel I mentioned and it looked similar. I did not show the holes she has.
The blue jays will squawk when a raptor is close, then head for cover. Just because the Sharp-shinned hawk can access the shrubs, does not mean that it will be successful. It also needs sufficient flying room, which a heavily planted yard does not afford.
The reason the American Kestrel is an effective hunter is that it snatches sparrow-sized prey from the ground.
Hearing the blue jays give call, the cardinals will head for the nearest densely branched deciduous or coniferous tree. Below one sits very still. Raptors have great eyesight and notice the most minimal of movement. This cardinal sat in the Viburnum for twelve minutes motionless. I went outside and it would not move, hence the photos from six feet away.
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It was feeling much safer with me in the yard than the hawk, yet hopped the post in case. It is not recommended to disturb the birds as they sit motionless because one could force the bird to fly right into danger. But I knew where the hawk went and the cardinal did not.
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The Downy Woodpecker was also caught off guard. What he did, not having time to fly to the Black Walnut, was take refuge in my boxwood. I never saw a woodpecker go into that plant, sparrows and cardinals yes. But honestly no hawk is going to pick off dinner in two foot high boxwood. So, smart move little woodpecker.
The series of images that follow were taken outside. Moving very slowly and inching toward the hawk is the way to approach the Sharp-shinned. You certainly can’t do this with most hawks. The Red-tailed hawks are notorious for skittishness. I can be a football field away and point the camera and they take off.
f5.6 1/1000 ISO 400
The only time they don’t leave is when they are captive, or have downed prey. I went out into the yard to save my ‘pet’ dove one year and the defiant hawk raised its wings at me and hissed. I backed off. My Akita was let out another time to scare off a Red-tailed and he came back into the house as fast as he went out. This hawk does not like its meal disturbed and puts the skittishness aside.
The Sharp-shinned is a less wary bird as you can see in my images and will sit with me in the yard.
He was in the pear until he finally had enough of me, probably blaming me for his failure to land a meal. He did have plenty of time before I ventured out.
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See below, this is the look he gave right before he took off. Not as clear as the other images because it was actually too close for the lens, but I just kept pushing the bird to the limit it would endure.
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Off he goes. How often do you get this view?
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Gimme some tail, bud.
f5.6 1/1250 ISO 500
He was not too scared and only flew twenty more feet to the lilac. He flew right into a spot with soft, warm light, reflected off the cedar fence. Good birdie!
f5.6 1/1000 ISO 500