Birds in the Bush

Juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk by yours truly

I’ve been noticing a ferocious abundance of hawks lately.  Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s mostly, though I’ve heard the cries and seen pairs of circling red-tailed and broad-winged Buteos almost daily.  I wonder if this recent predatory incursion into my field of vision has more to do with the turning of the season or with the development of my own sensitivity to the goings-on of the woodland world.  The passerines (that’s song-birds to the rest of us, the perching birds from crows to titmice that populate the order Passeriformes) have been preoccupied with each other lately, belting out lewd odes and territorial calls to arms from sunup to sundown.  So distracted, the amorous robins and bellicose sparrows are easy pickings for the circling keen-eyed Accipiters.

The other day I was riding with someone out of D.C. when a Cooper’s hawk jinked right in front of our windshield, and then into an alley between two row-houses.  “Whoa!” I exclaimed, “did you see that?”  “See what?” my friend asked, momentarily oblivious.  It gave me pause- I’m not so far removed from being a city person myself to wonder, what am I missing that’s in front of my face right now?

A crash in the bamboo thicket heralded the arrival of a young sharp-shinned hawk, stricken junco in talon, to her habitual perch, three meters away from my own resting place halfway up an ash tree.  Stifling a sneeze, I leveled out my breathing and heartbeat, and strove to become as still and invisible as possible.  (Have you ever tried to make yourself calm when you’re really excited about something?  How on earth were you able to do it?)  The hawk craned her face in my direction, peering at me through one eye and then another, peeping uncertainly.  Not at all convinced that I was simply an unusually shaped tree-limb, she worried at the junco briefly, glanced again in my direction, and exited the bamboo for a more secure perch.  The ground under the bent bamboo-stem was speckled with old blood, ragged feathers, and the remnants of droppings scoured by rain.

There’s homework to be done here: I’m not at all certain that “she” was a she, nor am I comfortable asserting that the junco I saw was, in fact, a junco.  How often does this particular bird come to this particular place?  Where in her territory does it lie?  Where’d she catch the junco (or whoever it was) and how’d she get the jump on him?  Does she have a partner or is she running solo?  For every one fact or facet of the living world I think I have figured out, twenty more erupt from the undergrowth and scatter before I can get a good look at them.

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