Sunday, April 29, 2012

Glimpses of Life and Death

Today while I was out giving my chickens long, loving, motherly hugs (and oh, how Moa the hen does enjoy being pet!), there was a sudden commotion in my gigantic lilac bush. Hearing the warning calls of all the little songbirds, and the thrashing of wings smacking into the branches, I knew that there was a hawk within.

I couldn't see it to tell what species it was, or if it was a threat to my chickens, so I gave a "bwaaaah" to the girls-- which in chicken language, is the same as a guardian rooster saying "Danger from above- hawk!"... which is entirely different from "gweeeh--eeeeh--ehhh" which is "Danger from the ground!"... I.. I see that I will probably need to write about this in another entry, soon.. You laugh, I know, but it works... and they all skooted under the coop within their protected run.

Just after the kill. Click the photo to see larger
I tiptoed inside to grab my camera, then wiggled my way back outside, to see what drama I might see. There, sitting in the bush, was a Sharp-Shinned hawk, Accipiter striatus, actively hunting. The chickadees were scolding him boldly, flitting around in the bush's canopy. The adult hawk's attention was on the ground, and I saw a field mouse squirt into the stonework next to my patio. I couldn't get a photo from my angle, and wasn't about to ruin the hawk's hunt just to get a snapshot. Though tempting, it would be irresponsible.

Suddenly, a White-Throated sparrow (see previous journal entry) flushed and zipped across the yard. Oh, so unwise! I cringed. Why couldn't the field mouse have come back out?! Like a flash, the sharp-shinned hawk was after the sparrow. It tried to go into a brush pile I've intentionally left for the wildlife, at the lower edge of my yard, but it wasn't quick enough. Just as it reached safety, the hawk was upon it.

Taking a meal to the nest, most likely
Just that fast, it was all over for the sparrow, one of my most favorite little birds. Though hard to watch, it is an important lesson that the hawks need to eat too, and as this is a mature bird it probably has a nest with babies to feed. Though I was sad for the loss of the sparrow, I know that even a single meal can sometimes mean the difference between survival or not for the hawk's chicks, as hawks are certainly not successful in every hunt. It was also a humble reminder that even though predators take our beloved songbirds, human development, chemicals, and introduction of invasive species (outdoor cats, competing birds such as European sparrows/starlings) is responsible for a far greater death toll on these birds than hawks are.

These photos are not the greatest. This event unfolded a few hundred feet away, and I didn't want to disturb the hawk by approaching closer.


  1. Yes, please do post about those chicken calls. Possibly a video so we can hear it as well as see them in action? It sounds pretty darned cool. We used to have chickens when I was little and no one ever told us stuff like this. :3

  2. Wow, cool shots and entry.

    Seems perfectly natural to communicate with your chickens that way to me....rather than attempt to have them learn human speech. In this case it kept your pets safe.

    I click, chirp, and hiss at my cats for various purposes. Granted, I dont go around speaking to them in that way all the time. I prattle at them in human talk not expecting them to understand more than my tone most of the time, but when something immediate needs communicated...why not cut the communication barrier down a bit?

  3. What a beautiful bird of prey tho'... wow.

    I've only raptors I've ever seen in the wild were Red Tailed hawks, Osprey, a Great Grey Owl, Kestrels and fleetingly...Peregrines. Oh, and a single Golden Eagle when I was visiting my aunt in BC when I was 14.

  4. Gotta love ecology, as sad as it can be.

  5. I'm glad that you are showing us the reality of nature.

    I look forward to more about chicken language! I talk to my pets in their language when I can, it only seems polite, and it helps get the point across. :)