Yesterday, after making a “clever” remark about a photo on social media concerning hawks and bird feeders- I was summoned to the backyard by Dan with the words “Put on your coat, you will want to see this”. He was wrong…though not totally as it is rare we ever get more than a glimpse, flash or hear owls or the Sharp-Shins that sometimes frequent our yard. But it saddened me to see that a Sharp-Shinned Hawk had died- fallen at the bottom of our big holly shrub out back. Not a clue, no sign of injury or malady. Could the intense cold and hunger have been factors?
Now it had just been a day or so before that I had seen a Sharp-Shinned fly out of that same shrub- talons empty, but familiar now with all the hiding spots the little songbirds escape to in the yard… the thick yew bushes have raptor sized holes punched in them and the big Blue Spruce limbs have been seen sporting a predator a few times this winter. We usually know before we ever see them as the small birds freeze- hiding under the suet feeder, under a limb or flattened up against the hanging feeder- motionless. And I, well I make tracks around the opposite side of the house, survey and “Shoosh” the raptors out of the yard. Not with any malice, but a gentle prod to leave the area by waving my hand and telling them to “go on and hunt somewhere else”.
Seeing this small raptor yesterday up close gave me the opportunity to get such a detailed view of talons, tail, hooked beak, shape and feathers- which fascinate me the most. Its feathers were stream lined and had a roughness, almost a sharpness to them. I admired its steely grace and beauty as much as I regretted that I was afforded this intimate view only because it was no longer alive in this realm.
It brought back to me a day last spring when I saw a raptor that had been hit by a car, dead in the middle of the road. I could not tell who it was, but came home to tell Dan. He retrieved it off the road, brought it by for me to see, then buried it. It was a Barred Owl and its talons were just as astonishing as the little Sharpie’s were yesterday. Only the owl’s feet were padded with a series of tiny soft “pillows” cradling its talons- unlike the bare leathery feet holding the talons of the Sharp-Shinned. And the owl’s feathers were so soft to the touch- a silent night stalker that no small rodent would ever hear or feel until too late…
I have great respect and admiration for these birds of prey; fierce, seemingly fearless (and hungry hunters just like the little birds that frequent our feeders). Their species name- raptor comes from the Latin word rapere meaning to seize or grasp by force and both these predators had been very capable.
I know I will hear another Barred Owl on some winter night. I know I will see another Sharpie only to wish it would not have easy pickings around a feeder. But I may be wrong. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk may have been as hungry and as cold as any of the little birds that are in more abundance. I do know that I am thankful I am not in charge of Nature. And I am grateful for the opportunities that life on Green Heron Pond affords us- to experience the wonder and realities of Nature and to witness the precious Avians that come here.