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MY Feeder. Got that?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Clientele is kind of thin at the feeders these days.

This was taken soon after he arrived, in October '07. He's spending a fat winter here.

There's been a little immature male sharp-shinned hawk hanging around our yard for three months now. Soon after he showed up, he bonked himself on the studio window, and I watched him cartwheel crazily into the shelter of our Virginia pines to sleep it off, and worried about him. He seems to be fine now, if a bit tame...a correlation I've made with other known individual window-hit birds. Not sure what it means, but it's happened enough to make me think it's not coincidence.

I think he figured something out in that accident. I think he figured out how to use plate glass to his advantage. He wouldn't be the first to do that, nor the last. He comes bombing around the corner of the house and scares everyone up from the feeders and sometimes one or two birds fly and bonk themselves on the same glass that got him. He's no dummy.

He's getting tamer and tamer. He sits for minutes on end on the feeders now, waiting for a titmouse to fly in, waiting for a junco to not notice him and land right underneath him. It hasn't happened yet, but a hawk can hope, can't he?
Several times we've seen him sitting in one of our little birches, a flustered titmouse right on the other side of the trunk from him. The titmouse dithers and scolds, knowing that it's not safe to break for better cover, but also knowing that the sharpie wouldn't be able to fly through all the twiggage to get him if he stays put. These golden pictures are from October, when there were still leaves. The sprucy ones are recent. Same bird, though. I had a couple of wonderful salons with the sharpie the other day. He came to the feeder twice in the afternoon, just hanging out. He watched me disinterestedly as I shot him through the glass, occasionally turning a withering glare on me.

What a gorgeous little bird, all fluff and needle-sharp talons and a stringy strong body underneath.
Don't let his contemplative look fool you. If you were small enough to carry away, he'd kill you, too.

If you'd like to hear the whole story, in the form of my NPR commentary, click here.


Julie, I always enjoy reading about your visitors! But, this was a treat to also hear you on NPR! I almost always hear your commentaries on NPR but somehow missed this one! Thanks for passing along the link and making me smile as you always do!

Great radio-essay -- thanks for the link. But it's dismaying to learn that titmice (a most unusual bird here) might be standard fare for accipiters in your parts. Can't we all send in our starlings and house sparrows to take the edge off your hawk's appetite?

Great one, Zick!


I've never had the fortune to see a sharp shinned hawk but your photos have really put a nice visual image into my head. They really are quite small! So many other shots I've seen of them are so closely cropped that you really can't get a feel for their size, but your environmental portraits of this guy really put his size and behavior in perspective.



a couple months back on a bird listserv a biologist noted that birds almost never break their necks when hitting windows (as many folks think), but rather suffer brain trauma due to their thin skulls. Even those that fly away seeming ok, often die days or weeks later due to damage that lingers and doesn't allow survival in the wild. Anyway, your little guy may be very lucky if he's been around for 3 months, or his tameness and reliance on easy-pickins at the restaurant may reflect some long-term damage that will eventually do him in. In any event, his use of the window as a "tool" shows he's still got some smarts about him!

We also have a Sharpie that "hunts" regularly at our house. He's not so clever as yours. We see a fluttering of birds and then the Sharpie. He sits on the bar holding one of the feeders. Does he really think more birds are going to come while he is sitting there?

Great blog and great NPR spot.

Just a suggestion: if you'd like to increase you feeder birds' activities...that pet hawk you've almost worth all the others combined!

All true, Cyberthrush, as I can attest, having nursed some windowstrikes. Subdural hematomas get them weeks or even months later. The ones that "come to their senses," or "seem OK and fly away" have a depressingly low survival rate. There was a good study that followed up on them. I have had several individuals hit and survive months or years after--one female hairy woodpecker in particular who hit three times! but was still with us a couple of years later. She got tamer after each strike, and I've never been sure whether it was because each time I held her and warmed her and put her in a safe pine tree to recover, or whether she was a bit addled from it all. If you're going to hit a window, it pays to be an adult woodpecker. Their pneumatic skulls are made for such insults.

Nice comment, Tom--you're right--you rarely get a feeling for just how diminutive sharpies are from the big fat photos in guides. They're dinky, but oh my!

I love how our sharpie sits on the feeders, hoping, I guess, that some real dim bulb will come while he's there.

Julie--I have a similar guest, sans window strike, in a peregrine that visits regularly. I can tell when she (most likely, though maybe he) is around--all the birds scatter from the feeder in a flash. Then I see the low-flying zoom of the peregrine swooping through. A pair nests high on our state's Department of Environmental Protection building (which is within 5 miles of our house)--aptly named the Rachel Carson Building. Love it!

How did I miss this NPR?

I agree. We create a balance for the inbalance... Mine - not a Sharp-Skinned but a vigilant Cooper's. Your pet Sharp-Skinned is very clever. Lovely bird.

Your story is so sincere but told in a way to cause a belly-laugh. You, Julie, are a gem. Thank you.

Over his shoulder...he digs me....

Cyberthrush's note is pretty much right on.
We get lots of window strikes, and their necks aren't broken. Just their poor little skulls. Or if they managed to avoid a skull fracture, they come in with very sad, nearly non-fixable neuro problems (head tilts, wandering eyes, seizures). It's frustrating.
Love your Sharpie, Julie. What a handsome fella.

Enjoyed your NPR spot tremendously Julie. :c)

I heard it when it aired, and loved it. Those pics are fantastic!

There are two types of birds in the world.
Raptors and raptor food.

Your feeders have the appearance of haphazard construction using found objects but I am guessing there is a logic to the architecture?

Great pictures of the beautiful hawk and I enjoyed your writing, too. I have a sharp-shinned who has been hanging around my feeders for a few weeks. He's managed to grab a few of my doves and a junco. Amazing how quiet it gets when he's around. That's great about NPR. I'll go there this afternoon when I have time to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing.

For Little Orange Guy:

Ahh, grasshopper, appearances can be deceptive. It may look haphazard, but it is a work of pure genius, with a studied rusticity that belies its high-tech slickness.
It is true. We have a sloppy feeding station, but Bill is promising an upgrade for photographic and aesthetic purposes.

Not long ago, I saw a flurry outside and an adult sharp-shinned hawk was subduing a starling right under the feeder! Yesssss! Of course, I had the short lens on my camera, and in the time it took me to ooze over to it and change it, the hawk bore his catch into the woods. He can have one a day as far as I'm concerned.

Great NPR commentary! We have yet to see an accipiter patrolling our apartemnt feeders, but a red-tailed hawk has been cruising by at window-level. I think it is interested in the rock pigeons or our neighbor's chihuahua!

Wow, what a beautiful little fellow he is. Thanks for sharing the pictures, and for the link to your NPR commentary. We listened to it last night -- very nice!

A couple of years ago I had a little Merlin taking Juncos at my feeder. I once watched her feed on one not 6 feet from my door -- for 40 minutes! She never perched nearby, that I noticed, but would swoop down on a bird feeding on the ground.

What a little beauty she was!


I love this little sharpie, but would like to take a moment to plead for the life of one tiny leuscistic junco, named Snowflake. (See Bill of the Birds blog)

Please, Mr/Ms Sharpie - Take all the starlings you want, but leave litte Snowflake alone. There is much more meaat on a starling than a junco anyway, so go for the jumbo portions.

Thank you,


Bird brain, what the hell is meant by that expression, clever hawk, sit and wait for food to arrive!

Found you through Stumbleupon. Lovely bird photos. I live in the wilderness of British Columbia pop over sometime.

Cariboo Ponderer

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