Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wilder Kingdom

The past few days have been exciting ones. While absently watching the American goldfinches feeding as I walked across the room, I was startled when one of them flew up and swiped the window. At first I thought the bird was merely agitated -- the pine siskins have been getting more and more aggressively lately -- but as it swirled away I realized it was panicked, and with good reason. A flash of red tail and razor sharp wings burst past the feeder, and I thought Spook had again come to visit. Still, while he's no longer strictly a juvenile sharp shinned hawk, he's not quite as adept as he'd undoubtedly wish to be, and the attack was unsuccessful. I went about my business and the birds went about theirs, eventually returning for their late afternoon feed.

At dinner that evening less than an hour later -- my place at the table faces the patio door -- I smiled indulgently while a house finch fluttered toward the one small tree we have. Within seconds, however, my indulgent smile became an open-mouthed gasp as that red tailed fiend again dove, apparently from the roof of the house, perhaps from the aerial antenna we've never bothered to remove. The attack was vicious, with a very determined bird of prey and a hapless finch who managed, how I haven't a clue, to escape despite being terrorized within the branches of larger neighboring trees before his pursuer flew to a nearby electrical pole. The pace of the attack, the agility of the attacker, and the burst of red, white, and grayish blue plumage immediately had me suspicious -- this wasn't Spook. Only a brief observation through my field binoculars was necessary to see the prominent eye streaks, heavy spots, and bold coloration of a new backyard guest and a new addition to my life list -- an American kestrel.

It's fascinating to see the differences between the two birds' attacks. The kestrel is much more aggressive and less patient, waiting for just a few moments on one perch before seeking a better vantage point. Spook, on the other hand, will wait for long periods to observe his territory before making a move. Perhaps, as a slightly larger bird, he knows his agility -- while always exceptional -- is just a fraction slower than a kestrel's, and his behavior needs to be a bit different if he will be successful finding dinner.

Spook has returned to the yard for the past two days, resting both in the adjacent tree and coming all the way into our yard on the small tree where the kestrel staged that blatant attack. He looks disgruntled -- this is, after all, his territory -- and perhaps he'll be around a bit more frequently now to ensure that any meals found within its borders are his own. Whomever manages to dine here will be welcome, of course, whether they prefer seeds or larger fare. Will Kess return? I can't say, but if Spook finds out, our backyard wild kingdom is sure to get even wilder still.

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