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

Long-Tailed Weasel: Feared Predator of the Lesser World

What has one of the most powerful bites for its size in the predator world? What has a small head and tube-like body that can go down most burrows? What predator is a greatly feared hunter, in the rodent world in which it hunts? What animal must kill around 500 rodents a year to satisfy its upkeep? It’s the Long-Tailed Weasel.

Voles (commonly known as field mice) are its “ice cream species” (that is the food an animal prefers above all else). However, larger prey will be taken when voles are not available. They will eat the head and thorax first and any leftovers are stored in the burrow. Weasels do not hibernate and so they will kill more than they can consume. This is added to their larder for times when prey is scarce.

This weasel is brown above and yellowish below and in northern climes turns white in winter, except for its tail tip which remains black. Males are twice as heavy as females. Its cousin, the Short-Tailed Weasel (or Ermine) has a white belly and is slightly smaller. Weasels are Mustelids (like skunks) and have scent glands that produce a strong odor for marking territory, defense, and most often used during the mating season. They also have well defined whiskers, which are quite sensitive and useful for navigation in darkness or in secluded places. They can swim or climb trees when necessary.

The Long-Tailed Weasel is the most wide-spread carnivore in the western hemisphere. The habitats they frequent always have water close at hand. We have experienced them in Waterton Provincial Park in Alberta and at Lake Cleveland – where we often see them “slithering’ out of the rocks and then quickly disappearing.

This small, elongated predator is retiring, but can be very aggressive if confronted.

A young weasel  at the water

Young weasel at the water

An Attractive Brown – Capped with Red

The ARIZONA WOODPECKER, a sub-species of Strickland’s Woodpecker, is quite attractive for a brown and white bird. Most male woodpeckers have a red crown, and so it is with this species. The red adds a very pleasing contrast to the brown. This is the only brown and white woodpecker in North America, therefore it is easily identified.

This bird has four basic calls: a rattle made by the male calling the female while in flight; a sharp, squeaky keech by the female when answering; a peep call to warn any intruder in their territory; and a tuk-tuk-tuk call by the babies when receiving food. The male does a fluttering, gliding display when courting the female, and they both drill a cavity that is about 12 inches deep and is left unlined. The young are altricial and are constantly brooded by either parent.

Their habitat is within southwestern oak or oak/pine forests that are between 4900 to 5500 feet elevation – where they feed on the insects in a tree’s bark by starting at the base of the trunk and then working up to the top. This species is vulnerable, because it is tied to a narrow forest elevation range.

We always look with great anticipation for this species when we are in its habitat. Once on a bird walk, some people had heard that an Arizona Woodpecker was in the area and really, really wanted to see it. We all looked and looked but couldn’t find it. The next day, my wife and I went to the same area. There he was out in the open just pecking away. We watched him for some time. This species is harder to find than other woodpeckers that have louder calls. They are also less abundant. When we do find one, it’s a real “charge”! They will come to suet, and they seem to like peanut butter that’s smeared on a tree’s trunk.

The southwest has many colorful forest bird species, and that is a lure that often draws us south during the winter or early spring months.

A male Arizona Woodpecker foraging on the underside of a limb

A male foraging on the underside of a limb

Bullying: Big isn’t always the bully

We sat by a tree that had a hawk resting in it. However, it wasn’t getting much rest. There was a Western Kingbird (which is, perhaps, 5% of the hawk’s size) that was bullying the bigger bird. Imagine how it would be to be a hawk, and to always have a tiny little bird pecking at you. The kingbird didn’t want that hawk in that tree. But it didn’t end there. When the hawk flew, the small bird wasn’t satisfied. It couldn’t leave well enough alone, but stayed right on the hawk’s tail without let-up. I have also seen other smaller birds, like Red-Winged Blackbirds, exhibit the same behavior. It doesn’t matter whether they mob the big bird as a group, or go after it singly.

It reminded me of my high school days. Being of large frame, I seemed an irresistible target for two classmates to torment. Was the fact that I was big, and they were small the stimulus? I don’t know. I could have easily turned and wrecked havoc on them. But foreseeing the possible complications, it was not worth the trouble. Perhaps that hawk felt the same way – who knows?

Pictured is a Ferruginous Hawk. It is the largest American Hawk. It is one of two hawks that have feathers that go down its legs to its feet. The other is the Rough-Legged Hawk. Its dorsal and leg feathers are reddish, but we recognize it by the great amount of white on its ventral surfaces. It is a species of the open country of our west, and its winter habitat is similar to its summer haunts. Standing stubble is habitat for rodents that make up a large part of the hawk’s diet and is favored. This raptor will also take birds, reptiles, and some insects; but mammals comprise 80 to 90 percent of the menu.

Ferruginous Hawks have been used as a falconry bird. Its flight is active with slow wing beats much like an eagle. It soars with wings held in a dihedral plane. Hovering or low crusing over the ground are also used as hunting techniques.

Ferruginous Hawk at rest on a fence post

At Rest on a Fence Post