Thursday, January 28, 2010

A very predatory week

This has been quite the week for seeing predators taking their prey. Maybe the light snow cover makes mice and voles easier to see – more contrast than when the rodents are scurrying through drab brown grasses?

Here’s a sampling of the bird species I’ve seen this week dining on various hapless victims:

* American Kestrel
* Northern Harrier
* Red-shouldered Hawk
* Red-tailed Hawk
* Cooper’s Hawk
* Merlin
* Eastern Screech-Owl
* American Crow

I had three especially close encounters this week:

* Tuesday afternoon a vole was feeding outside my office window in an area where I scatter bird seed on the ground. Suddenly a crow dropped straight down from a tree branch, pinned the vole to the ground, and dispatched the vole with a quick snap of its bill. It then flew away with the vole in its bill, presumably so that it could eat its lunch without being harrassed by the other neighborhood crows. Very fascinating. This is only the second time I’ve seen a crow catch a rodent. The other time was maybe ten years ago in Urbana, IL.

* Last night I was watching a small rodent foraging for food near the bird feeders (feeders are about ten feet from the patio door). I wouldn’t have noticed the rodent’s movements in the darkness if there hadn’t been snow on the ground. Suddenly a dark shape dropped out of the spruce tree and landed on the rodent. Screech-Owl! I watched as it bolted down the rodent and then flew away. Pretty cool!

* This morning I was walking along the edge of the Indiana University cross country course. I stopped to look at a Mourning Dove all puffed up in the early morning sunlight. It looked very comfortable soaking up the sun’s warming rays. Then a dark shape passed overhead and hit the dove as it vainly tried to escape. Where once there had been a drowsy dove there was now nothing except a few small tiny gray feathers hanging in the air like snowflakes. It was close enough that I could hear the hawk’s wing clip one of the tree branches. It all happened so quickly I couldn’t ID the hawk, but I’m assuming Cooper’s.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a week where I’ve observed so much predatory activity.

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