I didn’t expect to see this small hawk fly across a double highway in small town but my eyes were immediately drawn toward it. Its wings were alternatively flapping and gliding like so many others of the same genus, but what was it doing in town? I figured that out when it approached the Quick Trip store, maneuvered, increasing speed while rising above the target. That was followed by a quick dive, some amazing turns before moving on. Lunch for this predator was yet to be found.
I’m not sure if it was a Cooper’s hawk or a Sharp-shinned hawk. Similar in size and colors, the only real difference being that the Cooper’s is slightly larger and has a rounded tail while the Sharp-shinned has a square tail. Even top ornithologists have difficulty telling these two Accipiters apart. All I know is the large flock of city pigeons, sparrows or starlings this bird was trying to raise up in flight for food never happened so the hawk kept flying.
I remember another day out pheasant hunting when I spotted a group of mourning doves fluttering around nervously in a thick bush for some reason that was not at first evident. Suddenly I spotted the reason for their apprehension when a small hawk, again not sure of species, dove from a tree limb right into the bush. The covey of doves took off as if shot from cannon as the hawk exploded in pursuit quickly gaining speed, but before I could further ascertain action the entire assemble disappeared over a hill.
Often times I’ve sat watching birds at my feeders when a larger bird, blue jay, woodpecker or collared dove moves in to feed. Those maneuvers send every other bird in a frightful frenzy as the little birds are thinking that they might have turned this bird feeder into a hawk feeder! I’ve seen hawks buzz through my feeders occasionally but never noticed a songbird snatched from suet or seed.
Other predators hunt in dim light or night, a favorite time for owls to seek out prey. But owls have another skill that allows them to be more stealthy. I found this out on a deer hunt when I spotted an owl sitting on a low oak limb on a woodsy road far away from people. For no apparent reason, the large great horned owl pitched down off the limb and soared down the woodsy road where I stood still. Camouflaged from head to toe the owl didn’t spot me. In a second it was a foot over my head and gone with the wind. That is when I realized that this huge bird made no discernible sound even as close to my head as it had been. The design of their feathers makes them a silent predator.
Living as close to water as I do there are always swans and geese on the pond nearby. With water come eagles. One summer I noticed a large bald eagle perched over the pond where a nesting pair of huge swans had four cygnets. It seemed that big bald eagle was there every day and after a time I noticed one of the cygnets was not. A few days later I noticed another cygnet missing and then another. Every day the eagle was perched in that same huge dead elm overlooking the pond. The last cygnet survived and the eagle moved on.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org