Thursday, December 06, 2007

Feeding Up Before the Storm, and What's That Hawk Doing in the Parking Lot?

The House Sparrows spent time at the cylinder feeder today. Something that isn't usual.

Then for the very first time, a Dark-eyed Junco, they are inveterate ground feeders, flew up and began eating out of one of the feeders. The two hens of different species ate quite awhile on opposite perches. The Finch looks almost chatty while the Junco hen looks a little nervous. Whatever the case they were both eating as fast as their beaks could go.

It became clear towards the end of daylight that with the severe cold last night and more snow expected that the birds were breaking all kinds of barriers. Not only were the invisible boundaries of the individual feeders ignored but today near sunset there were more than 20 Mourning Doves in the feeding area. Forget territory today. We must eat voraciously to survive so all bets are off.
The Tree Sparrow is back, on the left in the line of Juncos. The male Downy, the Red-belly, and the Red-breasted Nuthatch all made appearances at the suet. Oh, another place a Junco appeared where one never had before. The Suet.

It was 11 below zero last night. Having had a second snowstorm on the first's heels, a third storm is on the way. The citizens of Wisconsin shoveled out, and motivated by yet more snow to come, they put on their boots and trooped to the grocery store in droves.

It isn't as if the cupboard is bare. Oh no, not here. There's hardly a household that hasn't at least one freezer and an extra fridge in the basement, with a side of beef or pound after pound of venison and turkey sausage waiting frostily for consumption. Cellar shelves sag under bright shiny quarts of summer's bounty, row after row of stewed tomatoes, sauerkraut, green beans, watermelon pickles, pears, peaches, cherries, beets and succotash. Burlap sacks full of walnuts, pecans and hickory nuts hide in out of the way closets. But you never know, and to be without the staples of milk, bread, eggs, potato chips, jello, and Mountain Dew--things could be, well, uncomfortable. And who needs that?

Therefore, when I pulled into the Woodman's parking lot in Janesville, parking spaces were at a premium. I opened the truck door, stepped out and--Holey Moley! There's a Cooper's Hawk zooming three feet off the ground through the very busy parking lot then curving up and perching stock still in a small tree growing in the median between parking rows. I look around excited with the urge to smile at others who've seen it too. But not another soul has noticed.

It's a very weird feeling and just feels wrong. How do people not see a hawk, we're not talking sparrows here, we're talking about a reasonably big bird that swooshes by just two feet from their waists? I've had the feeling before and the strangeness doesn't lessen with repeats.

On one of my initial trips to Central Park to watch Pale Male and Lola, I watched Lola flying down the path from the Boat House toward the Model Boat Pond, once again just three feet off the ground. (It must be stealth level.) And also on the same path, her ears plugged into some kind of musical device, walked a young woman. Still at waist level, Lola swerved past her, I was surprised the walker wasn't grazed by a wing tip, then Lola continued down the same path. The woman never noticed. All I've ever been able to figure out is that if people don't expect to see something, they don't.

So feeling a little disappointed at not being able to commune with other shoppers, I walked toward the Hawk in the tree. Her back was turned so I figured I might get close enough to get a good look. So far so good, then she turns, I keep looking, then have to look down to step up a drift. And once you look away, Whoosh, again at elbow height she's off , a Starling flushes from the tree in front of the Big Bagel shop. She doesn't pursue. She curves up once again, lands, again does the "I'm invisible" perch. Not one human glanced her way this time either.

Hawk may have avoided human interest but then I hear Crows. There are three and they've seen the hawk and are spreading the news. Several small flocks of sparrows use the crow cover to flee in a rush in our direction and away from the Cooper's.

The Crows choose two parking lot light poles near the gas station and a high drift in front of the Lighthouse Bookstore to scream in the hawk's direction, when I look again she is gone.

No one looked at the Crows either and they weren't in stealth mode. There's a skirmish going in a war between species nations that's been going on for thousands of years. Now most of us, being hawk watchers are geared to see hawks. We've found them things of wonder and we've trained ourselves.

Just think, perhaps-- on second thought not perhaps, but likely, there are any number of things, things of wonder we've missed because we never noticed them enough to train ourselves to look.

I won't stop looking for hawks, that's now so automatic I couldn't stop if I wanted, and I do notice other things of wonder tangentially, but today I began to wonder what I might be missing. What passes by me in the way a Cooper's Hawk in the grocery store parking lot passes by dozens of other people without so much as a glimmer?

What are the things I don't expect to see, so I don't ?

How about you?
Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

What's the word on bird feeders with metal perches? Do birds' feet freeze to them? That's the only type of tube feeder I seem to find available...thanks.

Donegal Browne said...

That's a really good question. I've never used a metal feeder.

I suspect the sticking quotient of metal in very cold weather depends on the metal used, the coating on the surface, and a bird having wet feet. Dry skin doesn't stick. The reason evil children coax others to experiment with the tip of their tongues.

I have seen a metal feeder in use here, with snow on the ground, and birds frequenting it without being stuck.

Which makes me think about the fact that though the little birds are constantly feeding in snow here, they never appear on the feeders with snow on their feet. Or even snow on their feet while they are walking in snow. It doesn't stick to their feet, while it does stick to their bills.

I'm assuming the difference is the temperature of the parts of the bodies in question. Bills aren't heated feet are. In fact their feet are rather super heated. I can well imagine that the heat immediately melts snow off the little bird's feet. Though I've seen it piled on roosting raptor feet. But is the body heat so intense that the feet are never damp? Is the texture of bird feet helpful in the non-sticking process?

I'm going to have to look into this one.