Rivertalk by Tina Spangler
|TRR photo by Tina Spangler
|A sharp-shinned hawk.
(Click for larger version)
On the lookout for Sharpies
Carrying groceries into my cottage on a late March afternoon, I heard rustling at the edge of the woods, followed by a flurry of chickadees fleeing the area. Perhaps my cat Chloe was terrorizing them again? Then, out of the brush jumped a large slate-gray bird. A grouse? No, those are brown. A bluejay? Its head was too round. A mourning dove? Not with that long striped tail. I could not make sense of this bird that was now perched proudly on a low twig just yards away.
I stepped closer, crunching on last falls oak leaves to get a better look. The unusual bird didnt seem to mind my presence. It just looked at me with its red eyes. It had a face like an eagle, with an arched yellow beak.
I put down my bags and grabbed my Audubon Field Guide. A sharp-shinned hawk (or Sharpie) is what I had in my sights. My book said the Sharpie is a frequenter of bird feeders: not for the seed, but for the tasty songbirds and mice it finds there. This explained why the hawk was in the brush on the side of my cottage, a favored landing spot for chickadees preparing to crack open their sunflower seed. As I inched closer, it swooped into a nearby stream, dunked its head, made a splash, then flew back up to a sunny branch of a young tree to dry off. Perhaps he was digesting. Sharpies also eat larger birds like robins and jayswhich is hard to imagine, because the hawk is no bigger than those birds.
The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest North American accipiter, whose short rounded wings and long narrow tail allow it to capture other birds while flying through dense woodlands. In flight, it is identifiable by its quick wing beats and followed by short glides. At feeders, it swiftly flies in for a lethal strike.
Though Sharpies remain in our region year-round, April is the start of their breeding season. During this time, they construct a nest of twigs and line it with bark, sometimes right on top of an old crow or squirrel nest. The babies fledge just a month after theyre born, and the parents feed the young by tossing prey to them in mid-air. I am now on the lookout for a Sharpie nest in the tall pines of the woods next to me. But if I find it, Ill be sure to put my bird feeder away early this spring.