At home safari

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Quite the wildlife weekend. Here is an otter in our pond this morning. It was swimming around hissing at us.

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Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon I spotted a small hawk out the living room window.

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Did it see me too?

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Beautiful little Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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Perched in the gingko tree in the front yard. I didn’t even see the woodpecker when I took this picture!

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The hawk started to move around the tree, hop-flying from branch to branch.

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Hunter and hunted.

The woodpecker flew off with the hawk in hot pursuit. I don’t know how it ended – they disappeared into the woods.

Sharpie sighting

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Looks like I get to add a HAWK to my count on this, my first counting day for the winter 2015-16 season of Project Feederwatch.

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Sharp-shinned hawk perched on the blackberry arbor, swiveling its head around to watch the feeders for tasty little songbirds.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “Sharp-shinned Hawks breed in deep forests. During migration, look for them in open habitats or high in the sky, migrating along ridgelines. During the nonbreeding season they hunt small birds and mammals along forest edges and sometimes at backyard bird feeders, causing a wave of high-pitched alarm calls among the gathered songbirds.”

Yes, the chickadees, our most alert and noisy sentinels, were sounding the alarm.

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Pretty bird, and distinctly different from the Cooper’s hawk I spotted last week watching my feeders.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cute little raptor in the backyard this afternoon, a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I was at the kitchen sink when I spotted the sharpie on top of the pole bird feeder in the snowy backyard. I grabbed my camera and got a few shots after it flew into a nearby birch tree.

All the feeder birds had vanished and my four sort-of-free-ranging hens held very still on the back steps and made a growling warning sound. This hawk seemed too small to go after a fat hen, though.

Songbirds make up about 90 percent of the Sharp-shinned Hawk’s diet. Birds the size of American Robins or smaller (especially warblers, sparrows, and thrushes) are the most frequent prey; bigger birds are at less risk, though they’re not completely safe. Studies report quail, shorebirds, doves, swifts, woodpeckers, and even falcons as prey. Sharp-shins also eat small rodents, such as mice and voles, and an occasional moth or grasshopper.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Look for these secretive hawks as they move across open areas with their characteristic flap-and-glide flight pattern. You’re most likely to spot Sharp-shinned Hawks during migration, especially fall migration, when they’re the most plentiful raptors seen at hawkwatch sites. Incredibly elusive while nesting, most Sharp-shinned Hawks spend their summers under the canopy of dense forests, occasionally coming into the open to circle in the sky or fly across a field. But they do also visit rural or suburban areas with some tree cover, especially where bird feeders or spilled grain encourage congregation of small birds.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawks are “pursuit hunters”, often surprising their prey on the wing by bursting out from a hidden perch with a rush of speed. They are versatile: small birds may be taken in the air or on the ground; they may pounce from perches as little as 3 feet above the ground to catch rodents; and they catch some insects on the wing. Sharp-shins make great use of cover and stealth to get close to their prey, surprising it at close range rather than diving from great heights. They are agile and acrobatic fliers, navigating dense woods at high speeds by using their long tail as a rudder. In open areas they sometimes fly very low, hugging ground contours to remain hidden to prey until the last moment.

I was surprised this one held still as long as it did.

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Attracting birds with meat

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Eastern Bluebird eating… cooked crumbled sausage.

Home from Thanksgiving, I was making a shopping list and cleaning out the refrigerator. I had some sausage leftover from quiche-making last Monday. I tossed it onto the feeder tray and voila! .. instant bluebird attractant.

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Chickadee also checking it out.

Suet and Other Foods, Birding Basics: Animal fat is easily digested and metabolized by many birds; it’s a high-energy food, especially valuable in cold weather.

Lots of birds at our feeders since I refilled them after our little holiday snowstorm. And these birds attract attention…

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A hawk took a run through the backyard, landed on a branch, then flew back across the yard with me standing there on the deck trying to snap a few photos. It did not seem afraid of me.

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It landed on a maple branch nearby, probably pissed off.

I am pretty sure it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They are hard to tell from Cooper’s Hawks, but this was more the size of a bluejay than a crow and had a shorter neck and more of a hunched, hooded look.

It was 13 degrees this morning and 4 to 6 inches of crusty snow blankets the earth.

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The cat perched like a hawk on her cat tower, watching birds.

Ask a Naturalist: Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk?

Project Feederwatch: Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk