It's a nice, sunny, but cold winter day, and the wild birds seem to be enjoying the sun as much as they enjoy the birdseed at the feeders. The Red-bellied woodpeckers are chattering at each other as they feel a surge of spring in the air. The Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are also feeling the spring fever, and they chase each other around the tree trunks and up and down the limbs. It's time to play woodpecker games, and whoever can make the most noise, wins.
The thirty or so little olive-colored Goldfinches gather together on the ground and dine on the sunflower seeds that the other birds knock off the feeder. It's still almost impossible to tell the male finches from the females, but soon the males will begin to turn to a rich, golden yellow.
A bluejay calls out loudly with his warning, and in an instant and a whirr of wings, all the birds make a desperate dash to a nearby brush pile for refuge. They all make it to cover safely, but one. A single, lone chickadee who was just a little slow at heeding the alarm call of the Blue jay has been caught by a bold, red-eyed, Sharp-shinned hawk. The small, bluejay-sized hawk is made for speed and agility and is quite capable of catching most any bird smaller than himself.
It's been a good winter for seeing Cooper's hawks and Sharp-shinned hawks at the bird feeders. They are close cousins in a group of hawks know as accipiters, the Cooper's hawk being the larger of the two. These quick little hawks have been visiting the yard at least 2 or 3 times a week through the winter. They usually fly in from the thick cover of the woods in a surprise attack of the birds at the feeders. Even then, their success rate is only 30% to 40% for an experienced hunting hawk. It's hard to make a living when you must catch small birds on the wing.
A sharp "thud" on the house told me that one of the birds had flown into a window. When this happens, I always go outside and check the ground under the window. Sure enough, I found a White-breasted nuthatch, face down in the snow with his wings spread. It's very cold outside, and I didn't want him to go into shock, so I put his limp, little body under my shirt to keep him warm and quiet. I went back into the house and sat down at the drawing table, and after about 15 minutes, I felt a slight stirring under my shirt. After a few more minutes, I reached under my shirt and gently grabbed the little nuthatch. After checking him over to make sure there were no broken bones, I took him back outside and released him. It was a success story I have repeated many times in my life, and each time it is a thrill to see the tiny bird fly away happy.
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