My Backyard Count = Plus One Minus One

By Pat Bumstead

The Great Backyard Bird Count, which takes place annually in February, is a great way for people to get involved in the citizen science aspect of birding. I’m always keeping an eye on the birds in my yard anyway, so for the GBBC I just count the numbers of little feathered heads, and send in my findings.

The Friday count this year had the normal numbers of the usual suspects – house finches, downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, black-capped chickadees, common redpolls, red breasted nuthatches, house sparrows.

The second day of the count, I looked out of my back window and there was not a bird to be seen. A little perplexed by the lack of activity, I scanned the yard more carefully.

Oh. No wonder all the little birds had flown the coop.

I watched this sharp-shinned hawk gulp down his lunch for 25 minutes. Initially I thought he had captured one of my little birds, but as I watched, I realized his meal was too big to be a little finch or chickadee. Then I began to wonder about my overwintering and highly spoiled mourning doves.

As I continued to watch his frantic feeding behavior though, I started to see bright blue feathers flying through the air. I know accipiters are very quick, but I was doubly impressed that this bird could catch a clever blue jay. I haven’t seen any jays in my yard for months, and I may have discovered the reason why.

If you put bird feeders in your yard, you will eventually attract crowds of smaller birds. Those small birds will likely come to the notice of the larger predators. Rather than getting upset when the hawk gets a meal, just observe the miracle of nature playing out in your backyard. Appreciate the sight of a magnificent, successful hunter doing what he was born to do.

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