Monday, December 10, 2007

Double Raptored!, and a Blakeman ID

A few hours earlier, there were literally hundreds of birds in the feeding area, the branches of the trees, the feeders, all eating as if it were their last meal. Now there have been no visitors to the bath for hours or the feeding area either. Then one sparrow appears.

1:21PM (Central) Then there is a rush. Instead of eyeing one another as usually happens at the bird bath. Today they all plunge in together in a kind of frenzy. Seemingly to finish as fast as possible, though one bird at least is always on alert. At the slightest disruption every bird flees.

1:22PM The male House Sparrow checks the sky and trees.

The Junco keeps watch while the sparrow bathes.

1:23PMNow the female House Sparrow is sentinel as the Mourning Dove drops down in the middle for a drink without even bothering to perch on the edge first. Then she's gone.

Then swoosh, everyone has disappeared. Not a passerine in sight. And there isn't one for quite some time.
3:45PM Eventually I decide to recharge the feeders which have been depleted. I go out with my bucket of seed, fill the three feeders, and then turn back toward the house. A Buteo flies directly over my head, only 15 or 20 feet above me. It flies like a Red-tail, it's shaped like a Red-tail but is ghostly pale, not a mark to be seen. Not even on the leading edge of the wings. Then it skims silently up and over the roof of the house. Gone.

3:51PM I get the camera, bundle up, and go in search of the hawk over the house. Not Buteo shape in the trees to the east. I turn, return to the back of the house, and search the trees there. The top of the Maple tree by the pump house has two dozen small birds in it's top. The smallest twigs at the top, the place the finches sometimes go when there is a raptor hunting. It's very hard to see, as if I'm walking through a cloud. I can't even see the red roof of the park pavilion through the white out.
A squirrel whines, north. The finches are off the Maple and fly as a flock toward the Spruce to the east. Now to the path that runs between the yard and the park, searching the trees, and suddenly, there he is.

3:53PM He's in a tree just off the yard and the path, just beyond the neighbor's shed; an open view of the feeders in three yards. I'm aware I'm too close and begin to walk backwards.

He turns and I'm sure he'll be off. But no, he looks at me, then continues to scan.
I curve around to another view in hopes of being less obtrusive. He checks the top of the tree he's in. A place Juncos, flushed from the Spruce, often land.
Wait, this bird has a fully streaked chest and belly. The other was most likely one of the local Krider's Red-tail. This isn't the same raptor. So this small area is being hunted by two different species without aggression. The neighbors and I have created a raisin in the raisin bread. A place in winter so rich in prey that varied raptors hunt the same area without negative interaction. The Ramble in Central Park with it's feeding area is also a raisin in the raisin bread.

3:57PM Then stock still he focuses on the neighbor's feeder.

His crop is full, yet he shows tremendous focus.

Patterns, he is memorizing prey patterns for another day.

4:08PM He focuses down and watches a squirrel scamper past.

He follows it as it scampers back toward the path.

4:21PM Then back to the feeder. What the birds do and where they tend to go will be fodder for hunting success tomorrow. A gentleman with a big malamute walks towards us down the path. He asks, "What are you looking at?"

4:22PM Shades of the Hawk Bench. I smile and say, "Come and look." And the hawk looks back, mostly at the dog. We talk for a few minutes. He intends to go camping this weekend with his son. Yes, in the frigid weather and the threat of more snow. He tells me about a Red-tail pair he often sees near the High School. It is after official sunset and when I look again the hawk is gone.
I make my shivering way into the house to download the photos for I'm not sure just what kind of immature hawk I've been looking at. At first glance, through the fog, I thought perhaps a Cooper's as that is what I've seen here before but no, something isn't right, too chunky for one thing.
I flip through field guides; I'm still not sure. I download a few photos and send them off to John Blakeman for his opinion. Even he pulled out his field guides, and his opinion, 95% it's an immature Broad-winged. A bird that should have gone south some time ago.
Has this hawk decided to winter here because of this raisin in the raisin bread?
Donegal Browne

P.S. December 11, 2007, I sent John Blakeman, a few more photos after the initial two for further perusal in IDing the bird.



Chris said...

Donna, I'm fairly sure that's an immature Cooper's Hawk. I can't comment on the jizz you got off it, but the photos clearly show all the field marks I'd look for in a perched Cooper's, and the posture is clearly that of an accipiter, not a buteo.

The head and profile are definitely wrong for a Broad-winged. The streaking on the breast is wrong, and the tail is much too long. And immature Broad-wingeds have dark-looking eyes--Immature Coops have pale eyes, like the one in this picture. This bird's eyes will turn blood-red as it matures.

Is there any chance that this isn't the same buteo-like bird you saw fly over your head earlier?

The only other possibility is sharpie, and the relatively unmarked belly, combined with the pronounced white tip to the tail, and the large pale spots on the back, all tend to rule that out.

When you bird in New York City, in places like Van Cortlandt Park, you get a ton of practice with Coopers and Sharpies (and Broad-winged) in the fall and winter. Back in the early 90's, I used to tell other birders "I'm seeing more Cooper's than Sharpies!", and they'd scoff--they don't anymore. Cooper's Hawks are making a huge comeback.

Chris Lyons

Donegal Browne said...


Absolutely, the hawk that went over the house was a different hawk, a Buteo. And I'd say that it was one of the local Krider's Red-tails due to the absolute paleness. As I said it flew like a Red-tail, and was shaped like a Red-tail, and that I do know. As Red-tails are pretty much all I've watched for the last three years, beyond dickey-birds. :-)