Friday, March 20, 2009

Psychotic Homicidal Beast Friday

I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk the other day, tracing lazy, languid circles high in the sky. A migrant, the "sharpie" was off to parts north, and this is about as placid as you'll ever see one of these birds behaving.

This got me thinking about "Sky Watch Friday". A lovely bit of goodness, this site allows photographers to post beautiful images of fluffy clouds, tantalizing sunsets, and other awe-inspiring views of the ether.

Very nice.

But there are winged savages up there in the sky, like the above Sharp-shinned Hawk. If these feathered balls of testosterone were the size of Trumpeter Swans, we'd all be dead. They'd run us down, pluck off our extremities, and feast on our innards. The sharpie is a fitting subject for Psychotic Homicidal Beast Friday, a blogger's tribute to the week's end that is very unlikely to catch on.

Sharp-shinneds like to attack things. They seem to be utterly devoid of fear. In migration, they'll routinely strafe larger, more sluggish and mellower co-migrants like Red-tailed Hawks, just for kicks, apparently. Yes, if these boys were human, they'd be stored in rubber rooms and fed through slots.

All of the Accipiter tribe are hostile. These are the bird hawks, equipped with long rudderlike tails to facilitate quick jigs and jags, and short rounded wings, the better to accelerate in fast bursts and get through dense thickets. No songbird is safe with lurking accipters nearby.

The above silhouette is a cardinal's Grim Reaper come to life; the spector of death for small birds. A Cooper's Hawk, the bigger relative of the sharpies and every bit as aggressive. They are like Mike Tyson, Wayne Gretzky, and Ghengis Khan rolled into one: savage aggression, suberb agility, and cunning warrior skills. I have seen coops go so far as to run on foot into shrubby thickets where songbirds cowered and the vegetation was too dense to fly into. That'd be like your worst dream come true, if you were the House Sparrow in the shrub.

I photographed the above confrontation a while back. Cooper's (left) meets Sharp-shinned (right). They didn't like each other. It was a battle of Alpha versus Alpha, as the little sharpie badgered the bigger coop, who would then chase his tormentor. Kind of like two bigtime wrestlers, maybe Stone Cold Steve Austin going after Andre the Giant.

Don't get me wrong. I love these birds, and admire everything about them. A group of us stumbled across the above Sharp-shinned Hawk, just after it had killed a Brown-headed Cowbird, last year. Like an unrepentant street thug, it gave us the evil eye for daring to intrude, and held its turf. These birds really aren't intimidated by much.
It was very apropos that Attila the Hun bedecked his war helmet with the likeness of a Northern Goshawk, the largest and most savage Accipiter of them all.
If you want to learn more about raptors, or even if you don't but do want to attend a fun birding event, come to Lake Erie Wing Watch. Held on Saturday, April 4th in Port Clinton, there'll be plenty of interesting talks, capped by keynote Chuck Hagner speaking about Kirtland's Warblers. I'll be giving a program on raptors, and there'll be talks on waterfowl, bird song, shorebirds, photography, and more. Register HERE!


Nicole said...

That was a fantastic post! Made me laugh out loud on several occasions.

Katya said...

A bird that looks just like that was eating another bird on our deck a while back... At least now I know what it's called.

dAwN said...

LOL..that was just great! Too bad we wont be in your area on the fourth..sonds like an awesome take.

Marvin said...

Ya think hawks are more aggressive than hummers on a ounce for ounce basis?

Great post.

Jim McCormac said...

Good point, Marvin. If hummingbirds were the size of chow-chow dogs we'd all be dead. They would skewer us on those lancelike bills, and cast us aside like so much dirty laundry!