Cooper’s Hawk – A Bird Eating Bird

Hawks are very difficult to approach. This one was by a forest-service water trough in North Heglar Canyon. He seemed cooperative, and so I crawled on my belly and got very close to take this picture. He’s a young hawk and perhaps that is the reason I was able to get quite close. He was frequenting the area in hopes of catching other birds that were coming in to drink.

Cooper’s Hawk & its smaller look-alike, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, are both predators that feed on other birds. “Sharpies” feast on the smaller species while Cooper’s will take birds the size of doves. Their falcon-type, streamlined bodies make swift pursuit possible. Exceptionally maneuverable through trees, they really “zoom” after their prey. We have an extensive bird feeding set-up in our yard, and these two hawks hang around in our trees. They make surprise attacks, scattering birds in all directions, as they swiftly appear out of nowhere. The reason why bird feeders need to be situated close to cover, is so a quick dive into a protected area is possible.

These two species are classified as Accipiters. These are medium-sized hawks with slender bodies, long tails, and short wings. These attributes give them great maneuverability in the tree habitats in which they reside. Cooper’s is 14” to 20” long. “Sharpies” are 10” to 14” long. Another difference is that the Cooper’s Hawk has a rounded end to its tail while Sharp-Shinned tail is squared.

Although we hate disturbance at our bird feeders, the appearance of one of these predators is always exciting. They are only doing what they are programmed to do. They are not nearly as great a menace as are the many stray house cats that we are plagued with – or the dogs that feel free to frequent our yard.


Rude Awakenings

by Dave Hanks

        The gifted high school athlete
			is in a situation unique.
	His ego is on display
			for any recruiter to "tweak".

	They will "wine and dine" him,
			and his parents as well.
	His past and future glories
			they labor hard to tell.

	He feels so extra-ordinary,
			from all they have to say.
	But little does he know,
			that there's going to come a day -

	When that gigantic bubble,
			laid on him from the first;
	Has about run its course.
			It is just about to burst!

	'Cause when they finally "land him" 
			(when they get him there) -
	He becomes "their game"
			and anything is fair.

	Life will suddenly change.
			It will take on a different "feel".
	Coaches are now ranting, and cussing!
			"Is that now part of the deal?"

	He is no longer grandiose,
			no longer the favored "son".
	Amid all the many bodies,
			he is just another one.
	And in life a lesson,
			now hits him "stark and plain",
	That any inner, glowing comfort
			can quickly become a pain.
	Human nature is so freakish.
			animalistic to see.
	Because they will only love you:
			“For what you do for me!"


#75:Running Interference

Bird Life is a Hazardous Life!

A bird’s life is fraught with problems. Of those individuals that are mature enough to migrate in the fall, only about a third of them are alive to return to their breeding grounds in the spring. But before that, young birds have tremendous obstacles to survive before they can be included in the fall migration numbers.

Around 60% of altricial (helpless) young born in open nests will hatch. One third of these will fledge. Cavity nesters have a better chance at life because the young are better protected and more mature before leaving the nest hole. About 75% will hatch and a little less than half will fledge. The period between leaving the nest, learning to feed oneself, and full flight is extremely perilous.

Precocial birds usually nest on the ground and only a third to a half of their eggs will reach hatching. Even though precocial chicks can run and feed themselves, they require parental protection. Many water bird young will be carried on their parent’s backs or under the adult’s wings.

The SONG SPARROW (pictured) is a generalist that will nest on the ground, in trees or in bushes. However, they do prefer brushy or marshy areas, even though they will nest in farming areas, along roadsides, and even in suburbia. This common bird can be recognized by its streaked breast and a large dot in the middle of its chest. It is a singer that lives up to its name. Two thirds of Song Sparrow eggs hatch, half will fledge, but 80% will die before their first year is up, and only 10% will make it back to their breeding grounds.

Because bird life is so hazardous, heavy reproduction is necessary to maintain each species, as survival odds are not in their favor!

A Song Sparrow bursting with song

Egg Laying

Egg clutch size is defined as the number laid by one individual in one continuous, uninterrupted period. All reproduction, including egg laying, is under the influence of the endocrine system. The activity of this system is influenced by environmental factors such as: weather, length of daylight, amount of fat on the body, or the amount of food available. I have learned, through practical livestock experiences, that females that are too fat or too thin do not come into estrus very readily. Thin females that suddenly begin to increase in weight are the best candidates for pregnancy.

The time required for the oviduct to secrete the material to surround the ovum and form a shell is anywhere between 24 hours, in small birds, to 48 in larger ones. Therefore, each egg is laid at the same time of day, usually in the cool of the morning. The clutch size is determined by these limiting factors: (1) the physiological capacity of the individual, (2) the size of the bird’s brood patch, (3) the mortality rate of the species, and (4) the largest number of young the parent can feed. Also, the closer one is to the pole, the greater is one’s reproductive capacity. Removing an egg daily from a nest will also stimulate the continual production in an innate effort to reach the normal clutch size dictated by the bird’s DNA. Domestic chickens are stimulated in this manner, when eggs are gathered every day.

The WOOD DUCK is a tree cavity nester (one of only a few tree nesting ducks) and fewer eggs are laid (average of 12) than for a ground nester (like a Mallard). This is because the eggs are incubated in a safer environment. This most glorious duck, needs streamside or wetland trees as habitat items. Newly hatched young will jump from the tree to the water and can survive a 40 foot fall without harm. Courtship begins in the fall and continues through winter and spring. The pairs are monogamous during the year and the male is very territorial during the mating season.

Wood Ducks are identified by their many colors: their iridescent green and purple crests, cinnamon chests, white bellies, red eyes, and white stripes.

A Wood Duck clothed in his many colors

A Bright Eye and Plume amid the Greenery

I see it! It’s so quiet and creeping so stealthily through the shoreline vegetation that it could easily go undetected. The bold red eye and long white plume are what stands out. I wonder why its name has yellow in it, as I see none of that color. However, during the breeding season the white of the head is tinged with yellow. only to become white again. This small heron (2 feet tall) is impressive irregardless of its name.

The YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON lives in wooded swamps, fresh and salt water marshes, and thickets. It eats a diet of aquatic organisms, which occasionally includes small turtles. Its stomach secretes an acid that will dissolve the shells. Unlike other night herons, it is active both night and day. Also, unlike other herons, it prefers a solitary life style – both in its everyday activity and nesting behavior (others nest in rookeries).

Obviously it has been hunted, as its meat is reported to be excellent eating. When wounded it will defend itself vigorously with its claws and can inflict severe scratches. It is also quick to get out of the reach of the attacker. The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron is sensitive to environmental problems like oil slicks, because it hunts shorelines and tidal marshes when the tide is out.

We have its relatives: the Black-Crowned Night Heron and the American Bittern, but it is exciting to see a special bird like this one – especially because they are not available in our area!

Black Crowned Night Heron by Uncle David
Nyctanassa violacea

How Birds Sleep on a Limb and a Northern Stray

Perhaps, you have wondered how birds can sleep on a limb without falling off. It’s a matter of simple angle reduction. Tendons run from the bird’s body, across its knees, over its heel joints, and connect to its toes. The joint that is visible in the photo is the heel. The knee joint is hidden by feathers and bends in the same direction as our knees bend. When the legs are straight these tendons have no tension placed upon them and are relaxed. The toes are unaffected at this time. When coming in to perch, the bird squats and by doing so the angle of the heel joints lessen. The tension created on the tendon by this angle reduction pulls on the toes, and they will now grip. As long as the bird remains squatted on a branch, the claws will stay locked and hold the bird firmly in place. This same result occurs in flight, when the bird draws its legs up under its body.

The White-Winged Crossbill pictured, shows this action. I was very surprised to see this species at the water in North Heglar Canyon. This species is an inhabitant of northern Canada and was definitely out of its range. This beautiful crossbill is adapted to opening cones and feeding on the seeds of conifers in the Boreal forest. The only other time I’ve had the luck to witness this species was in northern British Columbia.

It was with great excitement that I had this time with this special bird! It was one of the highlights of the photography year!

This White-Winged Crossbill shows the squat position that locks his claws on the limb

This White-Winged Crossbill shows the squat position that locks his claws