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11 November, 2013

Nature Show in the Yard*

My, what sharp shins you have. Note a fortuitous blade of grass for comparison.

In the wilds of, front yard, the hunter became the hunted. Cliche, but true, all conveniently presented on a grassy lawn with no obstruction, and anough time to grab my camera.

I was just arriving home, when I heard a violent screeking, and looked over to see a small hawk pinning a starling to the ground by my doorstep. In no mood to share her prey, she flew over to the neighbor's yard, where it became evident that this was one starling no longer singing its foreign songs, and the racket was the hawk's victory chant.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

"She?" Probably, based on the word of the Fish and Wildlife biologist who I sent these photos to. Juvenile, perhaps. Smaller than a Coopers, which would make it a Sharp Shinned Hawk in these parts. A native culling a flock of invasives. One down, thousands to go.

Hawk struck starling a few times for good measure, but was not really eating it. More of a dance: lowering its wings over the kill, flipping it's tail up, turning, stamping. And screaming all the while. She kept an eye on me lest I look too hungry, but kept it up for 66 seconds (thanks, digital camera for the time-keeping) before...

No bird for you, alien feline.

This is just one of the neighborhood cats (the ferals mostly fall to coyotes, I think), but to watch it come in, fast and low, ready for a pounce after the run, was to see the hunter that lives in most house-cats. It came out of nowhere (OK, probably the alley behind me), answering the dinner call. Was it like me, thinking it heard a bird in distress? Or have the cats learned the hawk's "I killed a freakin' starling!" song? This unwild-cat was probably not ready to hunt the hunter, but would steal a starling if it could.

This time, it could not. But it did make me wonder about how this works out on the big scale. I mean, a huge flock of starlings in the fairly open setting of single family homes  be a boon to the bird-hunting hawk, but how many times does the native raptor make a kill only to have it taken away by a cat? Or, does a hawk have to spend much time eluding pets hungry for yet another hand-out? The massive toll of cats directly killing wild birds has only recenltly become clear (billions, by the way, if not billions and billions), but what about the effects of harrassment and competition on native predators?

Maybe the impact of cats on raptors is tiny. Maybe I could find out if only I spent another few minutes searching the internet. But, I will not, because I suspect that the data are, even if they exist, apt to take more than a few minutes to find. Besides, the main point of this post was to share some photos of a nature show in my yard. These shots were zoomed like hell on a cheap digital camera, but they came out pretty cool, I thought. Sometimes just having a camera handy beats hours of waiting with fine photopgraphic gear.

* Adapted from a post at Land Before Me.

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