Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Birds Of A Feather

For a time I was feeding birds in my yard, until I realized that the urban rat population was also benefitting from my largesse. As the feed drew the birds, the birds drew the hawks. One symptom of our growing, disrupted ecotone is the reappearance of Peregrine falcons and other birds of prey in cities. They love perching on building cornices, watching for their pigeon dinners. I saw a Peregrine perched on a steel guardrail on the Beltway once, staring with his piercing gaze down into a gully behind him. They aren't large birds, but they know how to get the job done. I also have witnessed a larger hawk being chased by two crows to get him out of their territory, and I admired the crow's braveness for taking on such a dangerous bird.

What are you looking at?

One day I was sitting in my back yard, and I stared at a corner that had dried pampas grass. It didn't look right. When I focused more intently into the grass, I saw a Regalis hawk blended in and staring me down. He was two feet tall seated, and he had a very cold, hooded stare aimed back at me. I remembered a story my Cape Cod "mother" told me about walking in the woods where hawks nest. She said to always carry branches to wave above your head, because if you inadvertently walked too close to a nesting area, the hawk would swoop down on you. She is always giving me good advice about the nature of bees, foxes, coyotes and other things I encounter on the Cape. The Regalis is well named. All hawks have a rather imperious nature to their features, but the Regalis is one of the largest hawks that exist in North America. They average 25-inches long with a 56-inch wingspan. To be accurate, I was meeting Ferrugenous Bueto Regalis Accipitriade. Ferrugenous means rusty colored and refers to the bird's plummage which is a mixture of cream and rust. Bueto is Latin used to define the larger species of hawks or falcons. Regalis is Latin for royal or kingly and is only used to define the largest of the Buetos. Accipitriade is Latin for hawk. With a mouthful of a name like that, he had the right to look down his beak at me. I stared him down. I realized later how foolish I was, because he could have read that as a sign of aggression and gone on the attack.

Bill and Coo

I am no fan of the lowly pigeon, but they do have their fascinations. I've had enough in my yard in the past to have their seen their mating dance. The male approaches the female and nods his head several times, puffs himself up really large then he starts spinning in tight circles next to her. Then he spreads out his tail feathers and starts dragging them on the ground. "I'm big, and I'm twirling, and I'm a low rider." Usually the female ignores him and keeps on eating. Playing hard to get. You half expect to hear the male pigeons saying to each other, "What is with these chicks and their games?" The real ritual begins where she moves away from him, he follows, shift, follow all across the yard until they both start bobbing up and down, he jumps precariously onto her back, blink and the act is completed (and yes, I've seen pigeons mate...shaking head at self and sighing). Badda bing badda boom, then it's back to the grub. I've even discovered in writing this piece that pigeons have their own Viagra. It's called Zuchform and is a supplementary feed to ensure good breeding with pigeons. Hard to believe, isn't it? As if we didn't have enough of them.

Have you ever seen a hawk kill it's prey? It is swift, and it is brutal. One day, in the hard sunlight of early Spring, I was watching the birds feed and saw a hawk's shadow pass over the yard with his full wing spang reflected. It was like seeing the shadow of a stealth jet. The pigeons panicked and flew off in one grouping, the hawk swooped low, grabbed a pigeon in mid-flight and all of the pigeon's feathers flew out from the shock of the attack. When the feathers fall, they make a large ring. I used to find a lot of feather rings in my yard for a while, and I would know what had happened. On one occasion, within the ring of feathers, I found a span of pigeon wings with the bared bone of the breast. I suppose this is on my mind lately because I had the equivalent of all of my feather's fall out this weekend and it brought the hawk to mind.


Blogger cuff said...


2:04 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

"....I am the hawk and there's blood on my feathers but time is still turning they soon will be dry." -- The Eagle and The Hawk by John Denver

When I see a hawk being chased away by crows, sparrows, or bluejays I always wonder what's going on in the mind of the hawk. The hawk is sailing away, wings extended gracefully while the other birds' wings are all aflutter darting this way and that following the hawk. I anthropomorphise and believe the hawk is thinking, "You are so lucky that I just fed or am not hungry now because I could swoop down, wings tucked to build up speed, on you."

"...and all those who see me, and all who believe in me share in the freedom I feel when I fly." The Eagle and The Hawk by John Denver

What elegant creatures they are!

5:18 PM  
Blogger Benedick said...

Hawks are definately regal, but you're not giving crows the props they deserve! The corvidae family as a whole has a foothold in mythological grandeur. Ravens, especially. Black birds are often asociated with gods/goddesses of death and war, and man you don't want one of those on your bad side!

Thanks for the comment! I really enjoyed your post, and plan to swing by here more often!

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Chris Keeley said...

Thanks for stopping by my Live Journal

8:57 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

I, too, have seen a couple of crows chase off a hawk! The crows were bruisers, too, though. There are a number of hawks that nest around Turtle U, and they are handsome fellows. They're also enormous. I saw one sitting in the middle of a lawn once (he must have been hurt or stunned or gunning for a fight) and there were about 10 undergrads standing there staring at him. It was like seeing a lioness in Manhattan -- totally out of place, at least to them. Great post.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Excellent response, Megarita. I don't think people realize how large hawks really are, in comparison to other birds, until you see one up close. Also, they are a dichotomy in the city. They are wild raptors floating on thermals. What are they doing in Washington, D.C.?

As for crows, I could write volumes about them: their communities, their extended families, their sense of sharing. They are so maligned in comparison to what they really are. Some day, I'll have to write about watching crow parents teach their child how to crack the shell of a peanut.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Smash said...

I think birds are pretty much the coolest animals ever. I know that's not insightful or anything, but I just really, really like them.

12:02 PM  
Blogger M. Fred said...

One college night, after getting incredibly drunk and watching infomercials til 5 in the morning with friends, I stumbled out into the pre-dawn, back to my dorm, and saw the biggest ass hawk just chillin, perched on my dorm building, looking at me like my mother would probably look at me had she seen me stumbling home at 5 am.

Your informative post has just told me it was probably a Regalis.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One day last fall, I was walking away from my office building in the parking lot (on my way to Metro). Sitting on top of a car was a red tailed hawk, staring at me. I stopped in my tracks, unsure whether I should continue (the car was about three feet from me). That hawk was at least two feet high. I took a step forward, to walk past the car, and the huge animal hopped onto another car. Then another.

It didn't seemed threatened by me (or, by then, others in the parking lot), but, given its size and the size of its talons, it must have known it had the advantage over us.


1:57 PM  
Anonymous drew said...

Lookit here son, I say son, did ya see that hawk after those hens? He scared 'em! That Rhode Island Red turned white. Then blue. Rhode Island. Red, white, and blue. That's a joke, son. A flag waver. You're built too low. The fast ones go over your head. Ya got a hole in your glove. I keep pitchin' 'em and you keep missin' 'em. Ya gotta keep your eye on the ball. Eye. Ball. I almost had a gag, son. Joke, that is.
-- Foghorn Leghorn

4:30 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I love Leghorn, Drew. "Sir...Ah Say S'uh....Harumph."

5:22 PM  
Blogger Sub Girl said...

you really know your birds! impressive.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Dave EE o said...

When I went to Alaska I was amazed at the number of bald eagles and how commonplace the residents took them for. Another surprise was watching 10 or 12 fight over a fish carcass one scaveged from the harbor right by the gas dock, but they are opportunistic feeders like many top-of-the-food-chain creatures. Out my way ravens seem to have displaced pigeons and sea gulls ( not the correct term, I'm sure ) as the largest and noisiest group of scavengers, and that's another bird that has a rich history and dedicated following. Some people think they are crows, but ravens don't walk like a lot of birds, they hop or jump on both legs, and their tail, beak and 'nose' feathers are different from crows', please forgive my inaccurate nomenclature, and their call is different, never heard one say "Nevermore" though. Enjoyed this entry a lot, Cubism.

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Dave EE o said...

I piqued my own curiosity and looked up some real stuff on ravens, and a couple articles say ravens walk, not hop... so now I have to go look at some more birds ...

4:25 PM  
Blogger MKD said...

I'll forever refer to hawks as Accipitriades. I'm keen on enhancing my Jeopardy skills.

Great post.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Looking forward to you making it through the P's (doesn't look like you've visited yet).

11:33 AM  

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