Friday, January 8, 2016

Christmas Carnivore

Birds can give us wonderful gifts, and my latest - other than the nearly daily joy of their visits - was a sharp-shinned hawk that first arrived in the yard on Christmas Day.

Of course, that's just when I was able to first confirm the raptor's identity and verify its presence in the yard. The neighbor's yard that adjoins our rear fence has been visited by several raptors - both Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks - but I don't count a new yard bird until it actually touches my property (picky, I know). Then, of course, I have to know precisely which species it is, and these urban accipiters can be particularly tricky.

For once, this bird wasn't so hard to identify, thanks to its lack of a contrasting nape, shorter tail, barely visible white tail tip and relatively small head, all of which are fairly confident signs of a sharp-shinned hawk. This bird was fairly large for a sharpie, however, but that likely indicates it as female - females are larger than their male counterparts.

Not only did I get great views as the bird settled on one of my feeder hooks looking particularly grumpy, but she returned for several consecutive days looking for more meals. Once, we saw her pluck her prey right from a branch - a branch about 15 feet above and maybe 25 feet behind where she'd been perched - an amazing hunting feat and a well-deserved meal (most likely of sparrow or finch). Admittedly, there may be several sharpies frequenting the yard, since they show slightly different white mottling on the mantle, but that could be a factor of posture, feather position and wind ruffling as well.

I feel privileged and honored to have a raptor in the yard - while the random piles of feathers, amputated feet and bloody bill remnants I've found occasionally tell me it's not the first, it's the first I'm certain of, and a new visitor is always welcome.

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