Last year during the height of winter, I noticed the ground around the birdfeeder was sometimes be littered with feathers. Every third or fourth day, I found the remains of one of the birds visiting the feeder. I was sure the culprit was a hawk, but an opportunity to identify the perpetrator never happened.
Last week, I glanced out the upstairs window and saw a medium sized hawk setting in the ash tree devouring a small bird. I was able to get the binoculars and get a close up look. It was a hawk I’ve seen before, but have never positively identified.
The bird had its back to me, and the first thing I noticed was the square, banded tail. When it finished its meal, it turned on its perch and faced me. Then, I could see the somewhat small head and gray chest dappled with small darker feathers.
Knowing the hawk was waiting to waylay another bird at the feeder, I opened the window and clapped my hands loudly. It immediately launched from its perch; and rather than take to the open sky away from the river, sought an escape route through the thick river bottom timber. Whipping away at full speed, the bird dipped and cart-wheeled through the timber, and was quickly out of sight.
According to the National Geographic bird book, my predator at the feeder was a Sharp-shinned hawk. One of the identifying keys was its square banded tail, small head and the bird’s preference for forest land.
A couple of days later, I noticed the hawk was back. As I raised the window to clap my hands, it immediately took wing through the trees. As the hawk disappeared, I noticed a second sharp-shinned following closely behind. I learned later, foraging at a bird feeder can be a learned trait for both the Sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper’s hawk.