PREDATOR AND PREY WITH BIRDS

LITTLE BIRDS AND PREDATOR BIRDS

Starting off tonight, I want to talk about this morning. I woke up to the sound of birds screaming. This is a warning scream and you almost never hear it unless there’s a predator on the loose. This time of year, none of the birds are nesting, so they are mobile. A ground predator — bobcat, fox, coyote, fisher (weasel) — is easy to avoid because they aren’t protecting babies in the nest. It had to be a hawk. There are two small, fast-flying hawks — Cooper’s Hawk and the Sharp-Shinned Hawk — who typically eat small birds and apparently prefer them. Larger hawks by preference hunt down slightly larger prey. Squirrel, chipmunks, rats and they don’t mind puppies, kitten, or even house cat and small dogs. I think the deer are safe.

I couldn’t see the hawk at first, but I waited. Eventually, a big hawk (exact details are missing because I wasn’t wearing my glasses) emerged from the hedge where my birds like to hide and nest. Hawks can’t maneuver in that hedge. There’s no room for their big wings. This big hawk (red tail maybe?) wasn’t eating, so he didn’t get brunch. I get that birds — including predator birds — need to eat just like any other birds. I respect the right of wild for creatures to eat what they need. For such a big hawk to be hunting small birds suggests it has been a lean year for them. I gave my kids an extra special helping of black sunflower seeds. Incidentally, this possibly explains why I have not seen many squirrels — or chipmunks — recently. The hawks are hungry and overall, we have a lot more predators than prey.

We used to have rabbits, lots of chipmunks and squirrels and other small furry things. We no longer do. We have coyotes, bobcats, weasels (fishers). Raccoons who are both predators and prey — though these days, mostly prey. It’s hard to keep a balance when all these creatures live in such a small area. It looks big to us, but this section is maybe 100 acres total.



Categories: #SquareUp, Birds, Blackstone Valley, Gallery, Photography, square, Wildlife

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7 replies

  1. I had a friend whose neighbor bred and kept birds. My friend and her family were bird lovers, put out seed and suet and all that for the song birds. She noticed that the small birds were disappearing or not coming to the feeders very often and subsequently found out her neighbor had begun to keep red tailed hawks and other predator birds. My friend was mighty peeved off at that neighbor, said it threw things out of balance for the bird community. Plus it was a highly urban area, and your remark about small dogs and kittens/cats is valid. A chihuahua puppy might weigh two pounds (maybe). Predators aren’t choosy about their dinner, they just know they are hungry.

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    • Predators need to eat and they eat anything they can get into their claws and beaks. We keep pushing them out of their original locations, so the areas in which they live get smaller and smaller. I’m surprised they were even allowed to keep hawks. There are so many laws about them. Maybe it’s different, but to keep hawks and lets them just go and forage isn’t fair to others. If you aren’t going to feed them yourself, you aren’t really keeping them, just letting them live on your property. Your friend was right.

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  2. Interesting you have so many more predators

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    • Compression. The space available to predators has been shrinking continuously. I remember when I was in England (1979 for about three months) I noticed how little wild areas there were. That was when the U.S. hadn’t raped most of our open spaces and we had huge areas of old forest and had recently re-introduced wolves and the the buffalo were expanding their range. England seemed so TAME in comparison. Sherwood Forest was a subdivision!

      Well, now, unless you go far north and west into the Rocky Mountains, everything is “developed.” Humanized. Which mean anything bigger than a cockroach and a pigeon is kaput.

      Phoenix, which was a small town back then is huge and sprawling. It goes on forever. Los Angeles had borders and the Cascades didn’t have roads. You had to hike.

      All that’s gone now. The only place in the U.S. that is more treed than built-up is New England — 70% trees, with places like Maine and Vermont closer to 85-90%. Massachusetts is 70% and we live in the woodsy section. It would be worse, but there’s no work here, so no one bothered to develop it. The Berkshires were wild just a dozen years ago, but well-to-do retirees discovered it so it’s all built up today. Ditto the Great Smokies in the south.

      Here, it’s young forest. Oaks have grown back to areas that were farmed, but are now empty. We have 2.43 acres, but behind us, is another 70 or 80 acres that have reverted to unoccupied land and for the most part, it isn’t selling — unless the price is right. The only reason it isn’t sold is that we are too far from a city where there’s work. Farmers have mostly retired or moved to the mid-west where the land is flat and not so rocky. The last of the dairy cattle disappeared last summer. We do have a lot of horse breeding and goats and miniature horses and goats — and a few llamas — but “real” farms are gone. Local corn? Nope. We still have orchards at least.

      This has all pushed the predators further and further from their original locations. There are bears here. Bears had been gone for hundreds of years. We don’t have wolves, but we have coyotes and a LOT of deer (the deer never left). The Fisher (a big, furry weasel) has come back. They had been hunted to near extinction and are predators in a permanently bad mood.
      We have beavers. And having de-polluted most of the Blackstone, we also have a LOT of water birds. Swans, ducks, geese, divers. They tend to look for areas where the river widens into ponds, usually before a dam.

      There isn’t anywhere else for them to go. Canada has expanded too. Montreal and Ontario are 10 times bigger than they were when I was a kid, driving through there in the back see of my father’s 1957 Chrysler and getting carsick.

      It’s people. It’s ALWAYS people. We drain the wetlands, cut down the trees, build flat grassy lawns that we then poison to keep the birds and woodchucks out. Golf course, cemeteries and endless roads — ever wider roads and bigger (but not better) houses. Developers and their subdivisions have ruled the world since the 1970s. Malls. Parking lots. Office parks. And “human” parks, all carefully refined so we have easy to use paths and stairs and picnic tables. Big grassy spaces for so our dogs can run.

      Because we live in an area where most of the woods is unusable for building anything — too rocky, too lumpy, AND it’s wetland (half our property is wetland) — we have everything that has been pushed out of everywhere else.

      We have to STOP BUILDING. We have to limit the size of cities so that like it or not, we build up, not out. If we don’t, there will be nothing left. Alligators — there were MILLIONS of them in the south — are down to a few hundred thousand and the levees they build along the lower Mississippi River destroyed the wetlands in Louisiana and Texas and a good deal of Florida. There are more plastic flamingos than real live flamingos. We’ve lost 10 billion songbirds over the past half dozen years and are still losing millions of them every year.

      We used to have nesting eagles in our back woods, but we’ve had 10 years of drought and they moved on. We have fewer hawks and now, bears. So far, around here, just tracks, but they ARE here and the moment they are really here, down come the feeders. A bear can do a lot of damage really really fast. Our houses are not nearly tough enough, even for our small black bear.

      This is why I get so frantic about climate change and our endless push to expand and expand and expand. HOUSE CATS that roan loose kill as many as 7 million songbirds annually. And they kill the babies. Poisons used to kill crabgrass destroyed the robins until finally, last year, they banned it, but by then the robins were mostly gone. The variety of birds is half what it was when we first moved here, though this year, a lot of northern transients have moved here because of feeders. You find more squirrels on Boston Common than you find in our woods because there are no predators on Boston Common, except for an occasional falcon (they live on the ledges of tall buildings).

      This is a “don’t get me started” subject for me. I get into a bit of a frenzy trying to imagine this world with all the wild things gone. I worry than when I am gone, who will feed the birds? They are so messy, many people just don’t want to turn their decks into what mine looks like. It’s pretty disgusting, but that’s what happens when you have flocks of finches and Titmouses living there. They aren’t NEAT.

      Sorry. Didn’t mean to bore you, but I don’t understand why I can see it so clearly, but somehow, our legislators thing getting a little extra money now is worth destroying an environment permanently. All those old malls that are rapidly going empty use miles of what was open space — wetlands and waterways and woods and now, they are dead buildings with crumbling parking lots. Nobody even wants to plow them down, so they just sit there.

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