Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Hawk in the Courtyard

Hawks are a common sight in our neighborhood. Sometimes, they are seen being mobbed by crows, and other days, they are predators, swooping down on mourning doves and sparrows. The two species most often seen where Steph and I live are sharp-shinned hawks and Coopers hawks; sharp-shinned hawks are quite small -- no larger than a crow -- but won't hesitate to take down mourning doves and pigeons.

A few days ago, we actually witnessed a sharp-shinned hawk swoop at a flying mourning dove -- there was an audible whump -- and miss. As feathers floated away, the hawk sat on the branch of a pine tree, probably wondering where to hunt next. The courtyard, usually so loud with birdsong, was absolutely silent, and the hawk departed.

The day after, as Steph and I walked through the courtyard, finding feathers left over from the previous day's near-miss, I spotted something else: the body of a sharp-shinned hawk, resting beneath a tree. At first, I worried that it was the same hawk we had seen the day before, but we soon realized the corpse was far older. The bird's eyes were dry and had sunken into their sockets, meaning that the body had been lying there for quite some time.

March Sharp-Shinned Hawk I

March Sharp-Shinned Hawk II

We're not sure how the hawk died. The body wasn't near any windows, though it's quite possible the bird struck a window and was subsequently thrown beneath a tree, away from an apartment. Perhaps the hawk was mobbed and killed by crows; its feathers were quite rough in some places, though no blood was visible. Perhaps it was sick or old, and, roosting in a tree, it passed away.

This sharp-shinned hawk was a challenge to photograph; its proportions were small, but being a bird of prey, it was still quite majestic, a duality that was hard to portray.

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