“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
- Albert Schweitzer
When I started gardening for wildlife, I was excited to see each new species. We moved around the food chain from mammals to birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds and so on. And as a new critter made the scene, someone else followed who preyed on them. That is nature and you accept it. Maybe that is why I loved it when we saw the snakes arrive. They might take care of the voles who destroy my garden or the mice that sneak in the house….ewww! Mice belong outside. And the sight of triplet fawns sent my heart to racing as this was a clear indication of a healthy habitat. Not that my garden is safe with 3 more deer, but gosh they are so cute. And our newest visitor is a chipmunk who keeps popping into the garage to see what’s in there to eat-nothing so stay outside!
But what we had been missing from our habitat were birds of prey. We saw these majestic birds from time to time, but always from a distance. We have seen owls, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks and eagles. Some would perch on the fringe of the garden, but most just flew over circling catching the thermals and updrafts.
There is so much bird activity in my back yard that many days I need an air traffic controller to avoid mid air collisions. So I was not surprised to see a flash of feathers fly by one day. But something told me this was no ordinary visitor. My brain knows the shape and color of most visitors and alerts me when someone new ventures into the garden. This bird swooped into one of the ash trees near the gazebo. As I looked I knew this was a bigger bird than normally perches in our trees. But who was this?
He didn’t stay long and flew to another ash tree at the back of the garden still too far away for a picture. Next he flew to the largest ash tree in the center of the garden followed closely by squawking birds. I snapped a quick picture and then he was gone. Now my camera from indoors or on the patio is not capable of catching clear photos that far away so I was left with a grainy image and no idea who this was? I had a suspicion it was a small bird of prey so of course I started to dig out bird books and search online. Still I was unsure.
About a week later the pattern repeated itself almost exactly and I figured that this bird was scouting out the area for good vittles, namely other birds. This time he stayed a bit longer in the nearest tree and the image was a bit better. This was either a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk. After a bit more detective work, it was clear we had been visited by a Sharpie or Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus).
These small hawks are the most common found in backyards who prey on birds from robins to finches and especially new fledglings. So he must of heard the commotion or noticed the activity from across the street in the denser woods where they nest. Of course if he wants to thin out the house sparrow population I won’t stop him (sorry but they breed like rabbits and need a bit of thinning out as they take over native bird houses and prime nesting spots). Here are some interesting facts about Sharpies.
- The smallest hawk in North America
- Acrobatic fliers rushing through dense woods at high speeds by using their long tail as a rudder
- Females are 1/3 larger than males
- Slate blue-gray above, horizontal red-orange narrow bars on the breast
- Numbers declined from the mid-1940s to 1970s, the DDT pesticide years, but rebounded after DDT was banned
- Can be found throughout much of North America
- Migrate south from Canada in the fall although they can be found in my area 12 months of the year
- They also prey on small rodents, such as mice and voles
- Have one brood of 3-8 eggs; adults sit on eggs for 1 month and hatchlings stay in the nest for another 3-4 weeks
- Build a flat nest out of small twigs lined with bark at the top of conifers
- Surprise their prey by bursting out from a hidden perch
- Hunt at forest edges and backyard bird feeders-may need to take feeders down for a while if they visit
- Lonesome high pitched call
These are the precious trees in my garden and nearby. Many are native ash trees that the critters depend upon. I will be blogging next time about the almost certain demise of these trees in NY because of non-native invaders.
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