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.
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.