Birds Of Prey — It May Be Natural, But It Sure Is Ugly

Just the other day, my good friend and bridge buddy, was telling me about the shrieking animals she heard outside.  Thinking something was happening to her cat, or maybe her cat was after some animal, she ran out front only to find her cat in the corner on the front porch and blood and feathers all over the driveway and mailbox by the street.  She described the blood in a line across the drive way like the bleeding bird had been carried away.

Never experiencing this myself, I said, did the cat get the bird?

bird feeder plans, Cooper's Hawk, bird of prey

Cooper's Hawk, Blood on His Breast and On His Beak --- Finishing the Kill

No, she said…  it was a hawk.

A hawk?  Don’t they eat field mice, snakes, and squirrels?

Oh, they’ll eat other birds too, she said, and he was sitting the pine tree across the street when I came out.  It looked like he snagged the bird on the mailbox and flew away with his catch.  That hawk has been in the trees around the pond over there for a long time and this isn’t the first time we’ve found feathers and lots of blood like this.  It’s what it looks like after they attack.

Next, thanks to this article from Patch.com, those of us less familiar with this natural occurrence, will have our eyes opened about nature’s birds of prey, where they roam and what they hunt.  Our favorite backyard birds may be the Cooper’s Hawk’s next dinner.

Raptor Racks Up A Kill

The rarely-seen Cooper’s hawk hunts songbirds in an East Cobb neighborhood.

By Linda Rehkopf

I wasn’t expecting to hear the shrieks and shrills outside my home office window just before dusk one afternoon last week. Based on the sounds, I assumed it was a cat-on-squirrel fight, or a squirrel-on-squirrel fight.

I was wrong.

A Cooper’s hawk thrashed on the ground in the clearing between the house and the hardwood forest beyond. I hoped it had a chipmunk in its talons (nothing personal; the chipmunks’ cuteness factor lost me when they tunneled through my yard, which killed a lot of mature shrubs, and led to drainage issues).

Whatever the hawk had on the ground beneath its wingspan, wasn’t giving up easily. But the large bird extended its wings and fully covered its prey. Its powerful talons had a tight hold. Occasionally the predator tumbled and rolled, then righted itself. The death cry was heartbreaking. Through binoculars I finally caught sight of the prey: a red breasted woodpecker.

All that remained after the battle were some pin-striped, downy feathers scattered among the leaves.

Even in East Cobb, where habitats are lost to development, hawks still circle overhead. My neighborhood of woods and streams is prime hawk territory. We’ve had nesting red-tailed hawks for several years. This beneficial hunter takes out the chipmunks and other rodents, along with an occasional snake.

The Cooper’s hawk, though, is a relative newcomer to my patch of ecosystem. While not endangered, this species is in decline so isn’t seen frequently. A Cooper’s hawk eats other birds, and doesn’t seem to discriminate. If a backyard feeder is popular among songbirds, a Cooper’s hawk might decide to hang around.

I’ve seen one from time to time sitting in low branches of tall evergreens, but have never watched it hunt or kill prey. Basically, the larger bird crushed the smaller one to death. My reaction – curiosity tinged with horror – wasn’t uncommon.

Monteen McCord, who runs a raptor rescue and education center in Cherokee County, said sights like what I witnessed are natural and necessary.

“Backyard bird feeders/watchers grimace every time a raptor motors through and snatches their songbird off of their bird feeder,” McCord said in an email. “When they hunt, their job is to keep the gene pool clean and go after the ones that are damaged, slow, or just not paying attention.”

The woodpecker, about half the size of the hawk, probably had it coming, in other words.

“With a first year mortality rate of about 80 percent, most of the raptors have already starved to death,” McCord said. “As the weather gets colder, their metabolism speeds up to keep the body system going, thus requiring more calories. Combine that with a lower prey base in the winter, and you have natural selection at its finest; only the strong will survive through the winter and pass those evolutionary genes onto the next generation.”

To learn more about raptors, including several species of owls and hawks common to East Cobb and the region, a good resource is the slim book, Common Birds of Atlanta, by Jim Wilson and Anselm Atkins. The volume contains color photographs to aid bird identification.

Read the entire article here to learn more about birds of prey…

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