Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Neighborhood Habitats: Our Back Yard January 20, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Neighborhood Habitats — saltthesandbox @ 6:10 pm
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Here’s the view out our back window:

The view out our back window

The view out our back window

You can see our back yard isn’t very big. However, we have made it more interesting by adding bird feeders, including a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seed, three feeders with Nyger thistle seed, and a suet feeder. We also scatter seed on the ground.

On this 13 degree January morning, the feeders have attracted most of our usual birds. Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, House Sparrows, and a Mourning Dove were present when this photo was taken. A Downy Woodpecker had just flown off, and American Goldfinches, Rock Pigeons, and Northern Cardinals have also been seen this morning. The neighborhood Fox Squirrels have been fattening themselves on whatever they find on the ground.

Two days earlier, we got to see a bird that’s always in our neighborhood in winter, although we only see it once or twice a week. I heard a repeated call — “puk puk puk puk puk….” — from the neighbor’s yard. I looked out and saw a hawk perched on the back of the neighbor’s bench. Based on the low pitch of the call, overall size, tail length, thickness of the legs, and coloration, I identified it as an adult Cooper’s Hawk — big enough that it was probably a female. I called the family from elsewhere in our home, and Aaron and Mom got to see the hawk on the bench, tearing the feathers off a small bird she had caught. She took off before Ethan could make it upstairs, but we all got to see her sitting in a tree a few back yards north:

Probable Cooper's Hawk in a neighbor's back yard.

Probable Cooper's Hawk in a neighbor's back yard

The hawk is on a wire in the center of the photo. Here is a closer view:

Closer view of the probably Cooper's Hawk

Closer view of the probable Cooper's Hawk

This photo shows the one feature that made us question my identification of this hawk. The tip of the tail looked squared off, which is typical of the Cooper’s Hawk’s smaller relative, the Sharp-shinned Hawk. We’ve seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the neighborhood twice in the last week, and it really looked different from what we saw on Sunday. Because the other features of Sunday’s bird were like a Cooper’s Hawk, we’ll stick with my initial identification. (Go here if you want to learn more about telling these species apart.)

After the hawk flew off the the north, Dad went in the neighbor’s yard to take photos of its prey. All that was left in the snow around the bench were the feathers and head of a male House Finch:

Feathers and head of a House Finch on the snow

Feathers and head of a House Finch on the snow

A closer look at the House Finch’s head revealed that its eyes were swollen shut. Like several other House Finches we’ve seen this year, this bird appeared to have an eye disease that affects this species. (We’ve been cleaning our feeders, but some Finches are still catching the disease.) Perhaps that’s why the hawk caught this bird, rather than another, healthier one.

So, back to today. It’s a FeederWatch day at our house, so we’re keeping close track of all the birds we see at the feeders. For most of the time I’ve been working on this post, there’s been nothing in the yard. I think that’s because the neighborhood hawks keep the other birds pretty wary. Even when we can’t see them, the birds seem to know where the hawks are, and they head for cover when the hawks get too close.

Our family has shared many passionate interests through the years, and birds are the focus of our current passion. I’ll be writing more about our interests in the weeks and months to come. We’ll also be upgrading our digital camera and photo editing software soon, so that future photos will look a bit less fuzzy.


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