A Blizzard Brings Out the Hawks

Hawk_In_Pear

Male Sharp-Shinned Hawk, “Hey, who ya looking at? I’ve got work to do here.”

Guess who ruined my Great Backyard Bird Count? There was so much snow cover that rodents were easy to see scurrying across the white snow in the State Park, but rodents not on the menu today?

So below, the story unfolds in this backyard, breath-holding drama.

hawk_bluejay

Hawk and Blue Jay in a Pear Tree

One I was sure would end in a bloodbath and blue feathers flying. See the hungry hawk on the left and the petrified blue jay on the right? Hawks have blue jays for dinner and I was scared for my little buddy.

Blue_Jay2-17-13

Blue Jay Calling

Jays are a hardier meal than a spindly sparrow, but at a weight between 3.1–7.7 oz, the Sharp-Shinned can catch and take flight with a blue jay at 2.5–3.5 oz . Female hawks are at the higher weight and are usually larger than males. Hawks can carry prey that is up to about half their own body weight. But…

I could see the chatty jay was very nervous being the only songbird left in the tree. Shouldn’t he be quiet in such a predicament? Something on his mind, maybe?

Hawk_In_the_Snow-4

Male Sharp-shinned Hawk

Although very capable of capturing the jay, the hawk was not interested in him. What was the jay jabbering about that kept the hawk at bay?

This hawk had its weapons at the ready.

  • Talons for piercing and crushing.
  • Beak, for tearing apart flesh.
Hawk_In_Larch

Hawk High in Taxodium distichum

  • Eyesight for hunting from high in treetops or while soaring.
  • Agile and acrobatic flying.

The jay had every reason to fear, but…

Hawk_In_Snow

The hawk’s sights were set on smaller fare. He perched himself in the lilac after two quick, failed attempts at bagging a sparrow in the Juniper.

Hawk_After_Prey

Sharp-shinned on the hunt

He then flushed a sparrow from the Concolor, but missed it before the sparrow hastily went for cover.

Sparrow-_On_The_Run

Fly fast little sparrow!

It was not his lucky day. Mine either as I could not get much of the action from my window.

hawk_in_snow-2

Persistent and hungry, he waited it out to see if more birds would falter and take flight. After all, that is what any good hunter would do.

Hawk_In_snow-3

Hawk spots a sparrow.

He spots one. An unlucky sparrow makes a fatal mistake.

In_The_Dust

All I get is snow flying and an empty branch. If you are squeamish and don’t care to see nature in action… Stop reading NOW.

I warned you.

Hawk_Eating

Hawk eating sparrow

He has to eat too. Here he is under a tall Juniper filled with quivering sparrows, dining on one of their feeder mates.

But wait, we have a second hawk! Yes, another moves in as sparrows took the opportunity to flee. Yep, the newcomer bags a sparrow immediately.

Hawk_With_Kill

Hawk with kill in the snow.

Songbirds make up about 90 percent of the Sharp-shinned Hawk’s diet. Had either been a female, the Blue Jay would have been toast.

Hawk_Kill_2-17-13

Sorry if you didn’t bail on the images…

Hawk_Eating-2

Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk, check out this site.

Blue_Jay

Blue Jay

And our jay? It remained in the pear through all the commotion. He finally quieted down after the first hawk got a sparrow. I think he was speechless when the second flew in. And my garden remained quiet, not a bird to be heard.

Backyard_In_Snow

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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85 Responses to A Blizzard Brings Out the Hawks

  1. What a Great Experience to see unfold – hey it is the circle of life, right! Loving your captures – thanks for sharing the action:) Happy Monday

  2. alesiablogs says:

    Ok. I am just going to say it!!! YUCK! hahaha Oh well…that is nature… Corporation vs Small Business Man….hummmmmm

  3. Larry says:

    Spectacular photos… thankyou for sharing! Larry

  4. Wowser on the captures! I don’t know how you do it. I didn’t turn away from the images. They weren’t so bad really. It is a part of life. Poor unlucky sparrow but lucky blue jay!

  5. Great shots, especially through the window! I think their hunting skills are very impressive although I wouldn’t want to be at the receiving end of those talons.

  6. This is an amazing story and how wonderful you were able to witness it from outside your window. Fantastic captures. Not easy to do through a window.

    • If I went outside, the whole thing would have not happened. I went out yesterday to photograph a Red Tailed in the pear and it took right off. I got one image (not so great either) as it was flying far away.

  7. Great captures! Seeing the hawks go after prey doesn’t really bother me, as you say, they have to eat too. If we want to bring nature home, we have to accept that this is part of nature. One of the birders who comes to my house got an amazing shot of a cooper’s hawk with a newly bagged starling on a tree branch.

  8. debsgarden says:

    Fascinating! You were fortunate to capture so much on camera. Our garden is home to Cooper’s hawks, as well as a family of barred owls, all predatory birds, and now we have a cat! We have many songbirds, and I have to fear for them. My son, many years ago, summed it up when he said, “Oh, Mom, it’s just the food chain!” But I hope they are all more interested in the voles, ground squirrels, and other rodents, of which we have an extra abundance.

    • My Akita could not even scare off a Red Tailed, and my cats would have been useless. When the bigger hawks down prey they cannot carry or wish not too, they can be vicious. It hissed, advanced and spread its wings at my huge dog, and the dog backed off. It just kept eating the dove. The only reason I left the Akita out, was it was my pet dove. I was so sad. I can not imagine losing a pet chicken. It depends on the hawks for rodent eating. 90 percent of this hawks diet is songbirds.

  9. Victor Ho says:

    Having spent hours and days trying to get good shots, I can appreciate the skill and the good fortune that it took for you to get this series. Very nice!

  10. Bill S says:

    That’s life (or death) depending on how you look at it I suppose. Stunning photographs !!

  11. Good story and images! nature can be cruel, but it is what it is, your post is objective and engaging, your a re great storyteller!

    • Cruel to us is just what goes to the birds. It happens so rare here anymore since the garden had grown in and keeps the birds pretty safe from attack. But this hawk is a very agile hunter and can go into the conifers. I have a photo I did not post with his tail sticking out from the Concolor. That is the same tree I showed last post with the hundred sparrows on it. I say hundreds, but I only showed 40 on a small portion of the tree.

  12. A.M.B. says:

    [I started a comment and it disappeared–sorry if it posted too!]

    I’m sorry these handsome guys ruined your GBBC, but at least you were able to take great pictures and tell an amazing story as a result of their visit. They are beautiful birds! We get very excited when we see hawks around here, even though they’re pretty common in our area. They’re fun to watch. I showed the kids the pictures (until the end… I didn’t think they needed to see the sparrow!).

    • The problem when they are successful is that the songbirds leave for days. The evidence is left behind. One year when the garden was newly planted and not filled in, the whole backyard was feathers and blood. The small birds did not return all season.

      • A.M.B. says:

        How gruesome! We have a pair of Cooper’s Hawks that visit us, but they never seem to scare the birds away for more than a day. We have a lot of trees and shrubs for hiding, though.

  13. Christy says:

    Hi Donna…..really good post. You always have such great shots. How lucky to see two hawks in action at the same time! Hawks need to eat too….just part of Mother Nature. At least they are killing for food. I’ve seen pairs of sparrows start fighting with a lone sparrow trying to peck him/her to death. They can be downright mean!

    • I was surprised by the second hawk as I was not surveying the surroundings. I had no idea where it came from. It was probably watching the other hawk on the failed attempts and waiting for the ones he missed. I wish I would had seen him. I could have had more to the story.

  14. What a great recounting of this exciting drama. It looks very cold and snowy where you are, brrr. It is still going below freezing at night but the days are starting to get warm.

  15. That was a great photo of the hawk in flight– taken through a window! Wow!

  16. Great photos, nature and natural selection in action. Your vigilance in getting all those incredible photos is impressive.

    • It all happened really quickly, too quick for me to get the action shots. Plus the juniper is out of my view from the window. Hence the ground feeding shots have the roses in front. I knew I should have pruned them in fall. 😦

  17. Karen says:

    Hello Donna, Great photography, the hawk in flight was stunning. Despite the Disney spin most people think of when it comes to Nature, it isn’t always pretty, is it? I’m surprised the Blue Jay hung around through all of this, especially when the second hawk came in. He/She is a brave bird! Lately we’ve been having trouble with a pair of large hawks stalking the chickens. I know they’re hungry, too, but they can’t lift a hen after they kill it, so it’s a waste all the way around. The chickens sound an alarm the minute one shows up and all crowd under a spruce tree for protection and then I go out and chase off the marauder. Go catch a rabbit!

    Great post as always, Donna.

    • Karen, here is a site of a professional photographer that also has pet chickens. A Copper’s Hawk took out one of his hens. The photos are not gory and the photographer has cute captions considering what happened to his pet. The images are better than mine since he was outside shooting and also had a much better lens than I had on my Nikon. Plus, most important, he is a pro.
      http://guysagi.wordpress.com/tag/hawk/

  18. roberta4949 says:

    what a bunch of beautiful birds, I see these hawks and coopers (once a cooper flew right in front of me at fence high level), what a beauty! every once in a while I will see a large owl too.

    • Owls are very cool. Would love to see them here. I did once, but it was in the neighborhood in the middle of the day. It was injured or sick. I called the wildlife conservation department in our county, but when they arrived, the owl was gone. I also saved one hit by a car by taking it to my vet. I love owls.

  19. Phil Lanoue says:

    Amazing and wonderful photos of this incredible bird in action! I do feel bad for the little sparrows but so it goes in nature. Mr. Blue Jay was sure lucky though wasn’t he?!

  20. janechese says:

    great action and story. I like the snow falling in the photos.

  21. Helene says:

    Hi Donna, what a great series of photos, and I am amazed at what variety of birds you have in your garden! I am not really sure what I can expect in mine, so far I have only seen wood pigeons and sparrows but I think I can expect blackbirds, magpies and swallows too – not sure about hawks here in London, unless it has escaped from its owner!
    Loved all your photos, and the one where the hawk had just flown – and you could see that it had just gone, was just hilarious!

  22. Greg says:

    Nice story and photos. I view red tailed hawks daily during the winter in my work travels. It is a shame to see some of them run over after chasing prey across the road. A kansas science teacher gave points to his students who killed these fine birds, something about pest control. hmm. I thought hawks performed pest control….

  23. HolleyGarden says:

    Great images! Like you say, the hawk has to eat, too. I bet the stunned Blue Jay was too scared to move – and maybe that’s what saved his life!

  24. Like watching Wild Kingdom. I once watched a hawk (think it was a Sharp-shinned) snatch a bird out of the air in mid-flight. whooaaaa

  25. Andrea says:

    Wow what a great drama you just captured! And that is at the height of winter with all the snow still on the branches, amazing captures. You made the story as if that is what the actors are really thinking, hahaha. I also held my breath with the blue jay, as i thought he will be sacrificed first. We also have this Brahminy kite hawks, but they seldom visit us, unlike the crows which are always our worry.

  26. Barbie says:

    What a great documentary of the Hunt!! Amazing!

  27. Sue says:

    Incredible-you had me at the edge of my seat! Most of the hawk activity around here is by red tailed but I’ve seen others. One of the hawk varieties likes to raid grackle nests. I always know when this is happening because a flock of grackles forms and starts going crazy. Then the hawk blasts out of a tree canopy with 20 or 30 grackles in hot pursuit. Nature in action.

  28. Laurrie says:

    Amazing series of shots. Your camera and your eye are quick! It humbles me to think of the life and death struggles going on right outside our windows. All the time.

  29. Nice action! Was the jay doing his red tailed hawk mimicry?

  30. Pearl says:

    Wow…that is an amazing capture. We have Red-Tailed Hawks around here and it always makes me nervous when I see them flying overhead. I saw one get a junco one time. I always wonder why they go after those small birds when I have tons of mourning doves, blue jays, etc. One almost got a rabbit one time. Luckily for the rabbit, it disappeared under my deck just in time.

    • Mostly the Red Tails get the doves here. They have tried for squirrels in my yard too. One year I had three Red Tailed Hawks eying up the garden from the Mulberry tree, just waiting to see what would go to the feeders. I wish I would have taken a photo of them.

  31. sharon says:

    I think that wold drive me nuts….I worry for my squirrels but they gotta eat something…..I just dont want to see it

    • I get a lot of hawks here and they rarely are successful. But when they are really hungry, they risk getting injured is such a confining space. The first one must have been really hungry to keep flying into the conifers. Sometimes cats go in there. I have too many obstacles for them to fly around too, many of which could injure them if they crash into them.

  32. Fascinating series of images! Nature at work–you know how to do it best, Donna! I especially enjoyed the shots of the sparrow and the hawk in flight.

  33. Charlie says:

    I understand how it works, but still, it does make me sad. The photos of the hawk are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  34. Wow, I can’t believe you captured this all on film! Great photos!

  35. Fergiemoto says:

    Amazing images!
    We have hawks here that pluck little birds right off the bird feeders.

  36. catmint says:

    phew! what a dramatic action-filled post this one is. It even had orchestral accompaniment, although no one else could hear it because it was inside my head.

  37. Brian Comeau says:

    I love the narrative. Life is cruel and sad sometimes but a hawks got to eat. Beautiful creature too. Brave little Jay!

  38. supernova says:

    Hi there Donna, what a super post! Your bird photograph’s are some of the best I’ve seen – ever! Your story of the hawks reminded me of the garden I used to have. A male and female sparrow hawk used to be regular visitors, they too are very agile like the sharp-skinned hawk crashing into tree’s and bushes after the sparrows. Sometimes they take much larger prey, the female can even take a pigeon and these birds also take prey on the wing. I have nothing but admiration for your posts Donna, they always make me think “wow”. Best wishes, James 🙂

    • Thank you. I have seen the Sharp-shins take pigeons too. The pigeons are just so slow. I also saw them take sparrows on the wing. Sparrow hawks are so interesting to watch with their agile flying. Do you get Kestrels too? They are little flying acrobats.

  39. Lost this fab post in my email…we have Sharpies here but they never seem to catch anything in the yard…they do a lot of chasing though and hang out in the trees. I love hawks and see dozens or more on my ride to and from work from late summer through early May…nature is amazing.

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