Monday, July 28, 2003

A few days ago, Alan told me that he'd come home to find four hawks all sitting in the crabapple tree in front of our front door. They were all staring at the house and didn't really move when Alan came up the steps and passed under the tree to get to the door. One of the cats was sitting in the window watching the hawks. He said that when he had to leave later, he was a little afraid that he'd come home to find the window screen torn and one of the cats missing. Most of my experience has been with red-tailed hawks, and I usually saw them alone except when they were nesting. We've gotten to watch a pair nest and raise young a few times from the deck of my parent's cabin in the woods in Wisconsin. Obviously they had found a food source in the area or they wouldn't be hanging out like that. We speculated that Mr. Bun-Bun, with his normally free run of the yard except for one short scare by visiting Benny the dog, and his freewheeling days were probably numbered. I think they like the crapple tree because it has these wide sweeping branches, good for sitting on, and sparse leaves, good for keeping a watch out for prey. Every summer the its bark peels off and most of the leaves turn brown and fall off, but still every spring it gives us an abundance of blossoms.

I got to see three of the hawks the next day when they decided to hang out in the crapple tree again. One had the remains of a bird that it was eating and guarding from the others. Of the remaining two, one kept trying to grab a bite of the carcass and the other sat up higher in the tree ignoring the others and watching the rest of the neighborhood. Through a phone call to my mom at the cabin with her bird book, we determined they were probably broad winged hawks. The book informed us that they do flock (How many birds constitutes a flock?), they are about full grown at about 13 inches long (smaller than most other local hawks) and they dine on small rodents, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Mr. Bun-Bun was was probably safe although I couldn't rule out a possible gang action against him/her. I was now more worried about Mr. Toad who hangs out on our stairs leading to the front door and whose toad cave is in the garden terraces under the shade of the crapple. I decided to make friends. Despite Alan's shushings, I started talking to the hawks from the window. Occassionally, they'd look at me, but mostly just ignored me. (Hey, ever since Burt passed, I need someone to talk to while I'm gardening. Usually Mr. Toad and Mr. Bun-Bun keep me company, but I'm always open to new friends. The cats are housebound and do too much complaining back to me from the window to be good garden companions.) The hawks only flew away, not very far away, when we pointed them out to the pizza delivery guy and he looked at them as he handed over our pizza. He was suitably impressed.

Sunday, one of the hawks was investigating our little brushpile/compost pile on the other side of the house when I drove off. I don't think I've ever seen hawks spend so much time on the ground. Later that day, our questions about Mr. Bun-Bun were laid to rest when Alan saw a confrontation between one of the hawks and the rabbit. While the other three stayed in the tree, one of them tried to drive Mr. Bun-Bun out from under the crapple, kind of flying at him squawking like crows do to hawks to get them to move on to new territory. Mr. Bun-Bun was a little freaked out since he probably can't differentiate between rabbit-eating hawks and those who can't handle rabbit. The hawk obviously doesn't know a vegetarian when it sees one. While Mr. Bun-Bun ventured out, there was an unsurprising lack of other birds in the area all weekend.

From the picture on the Raptor Center site, they seem to be juveniles since their chest bands are vertical instead of horzontal. I'm hoping that means that they haven't perfected the hunting of small amphibians, yet. I've been down on my knees peering into Mr. Toad's cave a couple times but haven't made contact so far. I fear the worst. So, while we're enjoying their presence immensely, as long as they're hanging out in our yard, I won't be filling any of the bird feeders. Why make things too easy for them?

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