It must've been the distress call that made me look. My window sound monitor had been on all day, I had my head down at the computer, but something made me look up. What I saw was a fascinating part of nature, though I have to admit my heart went out for the poor little tuftie.
I didn't see the strike. It occurred not more than six feet from a feeding station. There were no feathers settling to the ground from an airborne hit. What I saw was just nature in action: a bird-eating hawk dispatching its prey, a Tufted Titmouse.
Over the past few days, I've told the stories of recent Sharp-shinned Hawk visits to my yard, providing interesting information from the "Essential Field Guide Companion" by Pete Dunne. Here is more information from that source, this time about the sharp-shinned hunting habits:
- Most seed-eating birds fall within their prey range
- Sharp-shinned is most partial to smaller species (chickadees and sparrows). This partiality is not absolute.
- Kills prey by constriction (that is, does not use its bill)
- Plucks prey before eating, usually on the ground where the kill was made and less commonly from a stump or elevated perch
This might have been the hawk's second kill recently near the same feeder - earlier on this same day, I had found a small tuft of relatively recent "disconnected" feathers while filling the feeders.
The hawk is pictured in a position called "mantling". Once the prey is subdued, a predator bird may assume a position of spreading its wings out and over the prey to shield it from theft by other birds. This sharpie had good reason to mantle its victim.
It seemed like it took a long time for him to kill the titmouse, though in looking at the camera times, it was over in less than 20 seconds. It was the distress calls and struggling of the little bird that made it seem like an eternity.
But the story didn't end there. No longer in a mantling position, the prey started looking real good to another, larger predator. A huge form entered the scene - a Barred Owl seeking an easy meal! At first I thought it was a large hawk (we have had goshawks in the yard), but then the large eyes and rounded head became evident - the owl I had seen in late February was paying another call.
It all happened so fast. The owl approached, the sharp-shinned took off, the owl turned, then both were gone. I don't know how the story ended other than the fact that some bird of prey had been fed.
I had to force myself to remember that it was all a part of nature and that predators take the slower, the sick, the less experienced. The fittest, fastest, and healthiest survive, enabling the best birds of a species to live and carry on.