BIRD WATCH: Predators provide glimpse of nature in the raw

STRANGE SOUNDS IN the walls or the attic are never good sounds, especially at this time of the year.

When some rather muffled “thuds” were heard on the roof over part of the kitchen, it had my full attention. This wasn’t like gulls running over the upstairs roof or raccoon youngsters gambling across the second-story deck; the erratic scuffling was an unfamiliar sound, almost like it was in the wall.

I was upstairs in seconds. It was possible to look over this part of the roof by peering out an office window.

There it was.

The creature responsible for the strange noise was as startled as I was. An adult sharp-shinned hawk was perched on the kitchen roof staring right at me.

His talons were holding a Eurasian collared-dove that had obviously just been dispatched. That had to have been the sound I heard.

It took only a split second for the hawk to split the scene and take the dove with it. This dove is larger than the small hawk, and it was a surprise he successfully attacked it.

It was also a little sad to see that lovely bird hanging limp in the predator’s claws.

This hawk and at least one other have had this neighborhood staked out for several weeks. Are they passing through during migration or settling in for the winter?

There is a movement of raptors in the fall, and they can silence the activity around feeders once they arrive. This is also the time when we take a look at our feeding stations and make some improvements or add new feeders.

My plans for doing this will be put off for a while. One or both hawks are at least temporarily settled in.

More evidence was discovered several days after the roof episode. Returning from a walk to get the paper, the dog and I found feathers sprinkled across a section of the driveway. Small gray and white feathers like the ones on the dove’s neck and breast were everywhere.

I feared for a second dove and noted that their almost nonstop calling had gone silent. A pair nests in this neighborhood, so I wonder if it was this year’s young or the parents who fell victim to the hawks.

Hawk strikes are never pleasant to encounter. It doesn’t do much good to tell yourself that this is part of nature. Nature can be cruel. Add to that the image of the peace-loving dove and the episode is even more sad than if the victim had been a robin, jay or other familiar species.

There is also another way to look at this episode. When your yard or neighborhood has hunting hawks haunting it, the general consensus suggests you have a healthy environment where numerous wild creatures can exist.

I also tell myself this when a raccoon jumps over my waterfall or an opossum sets the dog barking during the night. When a raven sits in a tall fir and calls to another for at least half an hour, it makes me think of wild forests. It is special when native wildlife can exist and even raise their young within close proximity to human habitation.

One other thought occurred to me as I watched the sharpie fly away with its next meal. The bird had been an adult and in beautiful adult plumage. Even its skinny “sharp-shinned” legs had been easy to see.

What a rare event, to actually be able to look down on this fierce hunter from only 5 to 6 feet away. A rare opportunity even if it was nature in the raw.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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