The Scourge of the Feeder

I’ve been dabbling in bird feeding since February of this year, and have had my ups and downs, but I’ve chalked it up to experience, and I think I’ve got it mostly figured out. I’ve also got a few ideas for feeders come springtime, such as an oriole feeder, and setting up some hanging baskets and a hummingbird feeder to try to lure some more colorful birds in.

While my yard list is nowhere near as impressive as that of Pat Bumstead, in the last year I’ve managed to lure in House Sparrows, a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, a few Northern Flickers, the ever present Black-capped Chickadees, the odd House Finch or three, Black-billed Magpies, and of course, Rock Pigeons, which I’ve come to expect will regularly pick up the castoff seeds that the other birds throw onto the ground.

I live fairly close to downtown, and twice now I’ve been surprised to hear the sparrows, chickadees and magpies harassing something just outside, and the second time I heard it start up, I had my camera handy and was able to get outside and snap some shots.

In my research, I discovered that it’s not entirely uncommon or unheard of to find that a Sharp-shinned Hawk has taken down one of the birds at your feeder, and that in some cases they can stalk a feeder for days or weeks if it tends to be a reliable food source for them. Both times it appeared that it took down one of the House Sparrows, and each time it took nearly a week before my feeders were back to the numbers I’m used to seeing, so the birds probably have a decent memory for this sort of thing.

I often wonder how many other times birds have been taken at my feeders. Not only by these hawks, but by others, maybe Cooper’s Hawks, or even one of the neighborhood cats that I see wandering every once in a while.

The photos below are of one of these events. This Sharp-shinned Hawk took down a House Sparrow in one of the bushes next door, flew across the street with it, and then, as the Black-billed Magpies harassed it, it flew into the walkway between my house and my neighbor’s, allowing me to get close enough to watch it feeding. A warning though: some of these photos are fairly graphic, so if you’re averse to seeing “nature red in tooth and claw”, you may not want to look. Otherwise… enjoy?

Fresh Kill

Fresh kill

I do feel sorry for the little guy

After the initial kill, the Sharp-shinned Hawk flew across the street, where I was able to take these pictures from behind a parked car. The magpies harassed it until it flew back across the street, and into the walkway.

Here is the Sharpie taking a bit of a break before getting back to its meal

Dinner is served

A car pulled up on the street out front, once again disturbing the hawk from its meal. It hopped up on the fence to finish it off, but it wasn’t too long before the Black-billed Magpies found it and started harassing again.

Two Black-billed Magpies harass and scold the Sharp-shinned Hawk

This Magpie was the braver of the two, but seemed to be only a minor annoyance to the Sharpie.

The brave Magpie attempts a second, but ineffective, attack.

No matter. The Sharp-shinned Hawk finished its meal despite the annoyance, and flew off to the east. I wonder if I’ll see him again some time soon?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk finishes the last few bites of its meal.

Appearing quite satisfied with itself and its meal, the Sharp-shinned Hawk pauses for a photo before flying off.

Posted by Dan Arndt

5 thoughts on “The Scourge of the Feeder

  1. Great series of photos, Dan! (We have some video of magpies bothering a sunning cat who pays them no nevermind as well – magpies are sooooo brazen). And like you, I feel for the House Sparrow, but hawks have to eat too. The denizens of nature don’t get to go to the grocery store and pick up a pack of plastic-wrapped Finch thighs or Sparrow fillet. Beautiful little Sharp-shinned Hawk pics!

  2. Thanks Gord and thank you too, Mel!

    I do agree though, it does come down to just being comfortable with how nature works. As bird lovers and nature lovers, I think we’re able to see it a little different than most, but I think so many average people just don’t think about the cruelty of life for every other animal on the planet.

    Besides, they’re an invasive species anyhow, those House Sparrows!

  3. Pingback: Another Sharp-shinned Hawk | Birds Calgary

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