Tag Archives: bird

Hawk’s Breakfast

hawk with grackleA few mornings ago, I walked into the backyard to put something away; suddenly a hawk flew from the grass, right in front of me, up into a tree branch. The spot where he had been on the lawn was covered with the feathers of a grackle. The feathers were fresh. I left momentarily to get my camera and returned to take a few photos of the hawk in the tree before it decided to fly away. I didn’t realize until I downloaded the pictures (and could look at them closely) how fresh those grackle feathers really were — the grackle’s body was being firmly held underneath the hawk. I had interrupted the hawk’s breakfast. The grackles had only returned to our backyard in the past week or so after being absent all winter. The hawk must have been thrilled with their recent return!
hawk with kill

Identifying the Red Tail

Are they red-tailed hawks?

Are they red-tailed hawks?

The  red feathers are starting to fan out

The red feathers are starting to fan out

Notice the distinctive red tail feathers

Notice the distinctive red tail feathers

I have trouble identifying hawks because they all seem to look so similar. Looking for clues to a raptor’s identity — by zeroing in on features such as size, shape, coloring, stripes on the feathers or behavior — doesn’t always help me figure out what I’ve seen. Factor in distance or poor lighting and it’s even more difficult; if the hawk is a fledgling or a juvenile, “fuh-gedda-boud-dit!” The young ones are almost impossible for me to distinguish. Despite my difficulty ID’ing hawks, there is one type that is not too difficult to determine from the rear.

The red-tailed hawk is aptly named for its distinctively colored reddish tail feathers. Like many other hawks, the body and wings are brown and the breast is lightly speckled, but the color of the tail really stands out. It’s especially noticeable when the feathers are fanned in flight.

About a month ago, I saw two hawks perched high in a tree. I was uncertain about their identity, although I assumed they were red-tailed hawks because they are so common in my area. Once the hawks began to fly though, the red-brown tail was clearly evident. When you are out and about, look for the red tail to identify the red-tailed hawk.

A Circle in the Sky

A circle formation of flying birds

A circle formation of flying birds

A raptor (bottom right) was close by

A raptor (bottom right) was close by

A few fuzzy close ups of the raptor that I couldn't identify

A few fuzzy close ups of the raptor that I couldn’t identify

While near the Raritan River the other day, I noticed a circle in the sky that was moving rapidly. The circle was actually a large group of birds. The shape kept getting formed and reformed, over and over, while the birds moved westward.

I’ve seen flocks of european starlings before, flying in patterns in the air then landing en masse before taking off again, but this was different. The birds were very high up in the sky and they did not land. The pattern the birds made remained circular until they went out of sight.

What I didn’t see right away was the raptor in their proximity. The more I watched, it seemed that the formation of the circle was a way for the flock to protect and defend themselves from the threat. Although it looked like the raptor was after the group of birds, I suppose the birds could have been harassing the raptor too (like an angry mob). I’m guessing that the birds were starlings, although it could have been some other type of bird that flies together during migration. I couldn’t identify the raptor either because it was too far away.

Linking to Skywatch Friday.

Young Robin

baby robin on railing fridays fences
baby robinThis very young robin was hanging out on the railing at a local park the other day. Linking to Friday’s Fences at Life According to Jan and Jer.

An Out of the Ordinary Jersey Bird

American Kestrel perched in a tree

American Kestrel perched in a tree

kestrel on line flying kestrel kestrel hoveringToday, I had the opportunity to see a bird that’s considered out of the ordinary for my state. Although common elsewhere, the American Kestrel is considered a Species of Special Concern in New Jersey, most likely due to shrinking areas of grassland needed for its habitat.

The kestrel that I saw flew fairly close to where I was walking. It landed in a tree and then moved to a few different branches before perching on a nearby wire. Moments later, it was in the air. It hovered in place while beating its wings, before suddenly diving down. It’s amazing how it can stay in one spot, despite the wind. The kestrel put on quite a display searching for food before I lost track of it. I couldn’t tell if it succeeded in catching anything or not.

Guide books describe the American Kestrel as a raptor of the falcon family, similar in size to a mourning dove or a jay. They are very attractive-looking; the colored patterns on the underside of the kestrel reminded me of a common flicker.

An American Kestrel in central New Jersey was certainly an out of the ordinary sight for me.

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.

Hawks Everywhere

I suppose it’s the February cold, but I’ve been seeing so many hawks this past week. On my way to work the other morning I spotted at least five and I don’t have a very far commute. Usually they are perched high and away, but these hawks were perched low, prominently positioned much closer to human activity. The winter search for food must be getting more intense.hawk

Comfy Goldfinch

This goldfinch is all tucked in and ready for a little nap in the sunshine after his Thanksgiving meal in our backyard. Hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving.

Posing on the Backyard Fence

Our backyard fence became a posing spot for birds this afternoon. The robin and the mourning dove both positioned themselves on top of the fence as if they were modeling their feathery haute couture.
Mourning dove
Robin

Enjoy more fence photos on “Friday Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Mockingbird Sings

We have a Northern Mockingbird who frequents the wire outside our house near the willow tree. This bird is very noisy, especially in the morning, but it doesn’t make me angry. Its repertoire of trills, tweets and chirps always makes me laugh; what an incredible range of sounds from one bird. Mockingbirds are appropriately named. If you didn’t know any better you’d think you had a half-dozen different types of birds in your backyard. This mockingbird can even imitate a bluejay (listen at :019 in the video).

A Relaxing Spot

This fence (in honor of “Friday Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer) was near the beginning of a nature trail at a local park. I thought it looked like a relaxing spot; the robin thought so too.