The Stealth Move

This backyard hawk caused a downy woodpecker to make some stealthy moves

This backyard hawk caused a downy woodpecker to make some stealthy moves

The woodpecker flattened itself against the tree branch

The woodpecker flattened itself against the tree branch

What a trick! Hiding behind the branch out of the hawk's sight

What a trick! Hiding behind the branch out of the hawk’s sight

Every once in a while a hawk visits our backyard; today it came twice and caused one of our backyard birds to resort to a stealthy move for its survival.

The first raptor visit was early this morning when I was in the kitchen. Through the window, I saw the hawk perch low in the walnut tree next to our bird feeders. I wanted to take a photo through the sliding glass door, but the hawk flew off just as I returned from down the hall with my camera. Later this afternoon, I was outside in the backyard, with my camera, when the hawk returned a second time.

Normally, when a hawk is nearby, the backyard birds flee into the hidden areas of the bushes or pine trees and there is silence. All chirping ceases. This afternoon, the hawk appeared so suddenly it seemed to take the birds by surprise. They weren’t able to resort to their normal safety routines.

The female cardinal didn’t flee and hide. Instead, it stayed completely frozen in place on a tree branch, not moving whatsoever. The tufted titmouse was a little bit braver. It made a short, sudden warning call and then immediately dropped into the pine branches out of sight. The mourning doves stayed still in the same position they had been sitting in previously. The downy woodpecker, however, was the stealthy one. First, he froze on the tree branch. He didn’t move his head to the right or to the left, but you could tell he was aware of the danger. Then, he pressed his body down as close as possible to the branch. His final move was to swiftly rotate around to the underside of the tree branch to get out of the hawk’s direct line of sight. The woodpecker stayed completely still in that position, keeping the branch between himself and the hawk, until the hawk finally flew away. Once the danger was gone, the woodpecker moved back around to the top of the branch and started to eat some suet. The other birds also resumed their activities like nothing had happened.

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15 responses to “The Stealth Move

  1. What great observations – so interesting! Thanks.

  2. Great photos and narrative!

  3. Such a wonderful post… I love your beautiful attention to these lovelies. :)

  4. Great post. I love your observation about the hunted — I’m usually so busy watching the hawk hunt that I lose sight of the little birds.

  5. Dumb question, but does a hawk eat all birds? I wonder if a woodpecker isn’t on his meal plan, what with that beak.

    As usual Nature, fabulous photos. You have quite the eye…and steady hand.

    • I was wondering the same thing – if the hawk would actually eat the woodpecker or if the woodpecker was just being cautious. This particular hawk is a juvenile and doesn’t seem to have his catching prey skills mastered yet.

  6. Nice observations and photos, and a happy ending for the smaller birds.

  7. The garden birds are so interesting. I could look at them all day. I hardly see any hawk though, but they come sometimes, to hunt..

  8. Smart, smart birds…especially the woodpecker!

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