The other day I saw a large bird perched in one of the maple trees near our back porch/balcony. It’s a tree that many blue jays, mourning doves, cardinals and house sparrows use as a staging area before swooping down to the feeders and window boxes we keep filled with seed. The light wasn’t too good and the bird didn’t look all that big. The first day, we thought it was some kind of hawk, but couldn’t see the colors. The second day, I could clearly see the white breast and dark back. Eastern Kingbird? Folks on the Great Backyard Bird Count Facebook page said too early in the season for a kingbird. Maybe a Sharp-shinned hawk.
This afternoon, we saw the bird up close – like just on the other side of the kitchen window close. It was clearly an immature Red Tailed Hawk. We always leave our Christmas tree tied to the porch rail and it is still green and has most of its needles. The sparrows use it for shelter. And they needed it today! When the Red-tail flew by the first time, some of the 50-60 house sparrows flew away. But when he landed on the porch, the tree held maybe 10 of them chirping away. For about 2 minutes, my husband, Mr. Bunter (one of our cats), and I watched the poor red-tail trying to figure out how to catch one of the sparrows. He flew from one window box to the other. He tried to shimmy down one of the porch rail posts near the tree. He landed on the table under the window so he could study us and the birds in the tree.
When he flew off for a second, probably to re-group, the sparrows made their escape. When he came back, there was no more chirping in the tree. No lunch today for Mr. Red-tail. And later, my husband, watched 3 hawks circling the park and flying off in the direction of Jamaica Plain.
A number of years ago, a mature red-tail swooped on to the porch and grabbed a rock dove (pigeon) and proceeded to eat the entire bird while we watched. I think he left a couple of feathers. We also had a young red-tail fly into a neighbor’s open window. The Audubon and Animal Rescue people were called and he was rescued unhurt.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Red-tailed Hawks are the most common kind. One sees them circling around when you are driving along the interstates or on back roads. But we’ve been lucky to have see two of them close up.
Photograph from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site, All About Birds.