Posted by: Jim E | July 21, 2014

Birdfeeders, Hawk, Squirrel, Blue Spruce…And A Little Biology…

When we moved into our first home in June of 1971, in Andover, Minnesota…it was in a Backyard 1new addition that was being built on what used to be a farm field…there were no trees and the ground between houses was still rutted with rows that used to be planted with crops…our builder bought this acreage between two county roads for the purpose of dividing the land into half acre lots…enough room for a house and septic system, the allotted land needed at the time to do that…so between our house and the next was plenty of room and behind our house was  adjacent land still used for pasture, where horses grazed…yup, we were out in the country at that time, though things changed rapidly…many houses were built around us…and we planted trees…just “sticks” really…Green Ash, Maple, flowering Crab apple and a number of evergreens…balsam, Colorado blue spruce…Oh, maybe 20 plus trees in all…no shade for a long time with those trees…but we had hope…

Backyard 2All this to tell a story…something that I had never seen before, nor since…but let me fill you in a bit about how this came about…the pasture behind our house was all grass with horses grazing…the kids played in that pasture over the years as it changed…even back then I remembered what I learned in 10th grade Biology class…I remember the topic, the book, the pictures on the page…the lesson was about “ecological succession”…and how a bare field would change…and over the 36 years we spent in that house, not only our kids grew up, but our lot and the field behind the house changed too…simply, the idea of ecologic succession is that if you have a  bare field of land it will change…first grass, then small woody plants, then bushes, then trees, etc…coming to what they called a climax or what it was before it was a field…animals change as well as vegetation…mites and ants, bugs and spiders, snakes and worms, mice and voles, squirrels and fox, deer and raccoon, etc….that is as quick a biology lesson as I can come up with…it is more complex than that…but that will do…

The story, okay the story…I’ll get to that…just hang on a bit…I remember all the MeadowMeadowlark Larks that we had in that field behind the house…our kids would love its “call”, that is “before” the ecological succession I talked about…the kids used to find their nests in the grass…and see them fly right to it…sit on a fence post and sing their hearts out, its a beautiful song…thinking of that always makes me think of Willa Cather’s book “O Pioneers”, about first and second generation life on the prairie, and relates to what I write about here…a quote from the book I love:

“Yes, sometimes, when I think about father and mother and those who are gone; so many of our old neighbors.” Alexandra paused and looked up thoughtfully at the stars. “We can remember the graveyard when it was wild prairie, Carl, and now–”

“And now the old story has begun to write itself over there,” said Carl softly. “Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.”

Each generation is so certain they are the first…like the larks…same five notes over for thousands of years…oh, listen, he’s so sure he’s the first…

But when the changes happened over the 36 years we lived there…the Meadowlarks disappeared…they need open land, grass and few trees to live as they have for thousands Backyard 3of years…so the last 20 years…no Meadowlarks…we think things are going to remain the same…but they never do…life is moving, we need to get on board…there may be only two or three human stories, repeating themselves like the lark but they are our stories…

And so things changed, the Meadowlarks were gone but the trees grew…the field behind our house changed too…Cedar trees began to grow there as well as the ones in our yard…we put up bird feeders…it was one of Jeremy’s hobbies…we had feeders for hummingbirds and every other kind too…it was fun to see how many we had coming to the feeders…but like all other things in life, one moveMinnesota backyard 7 seems to make other things happen…one move causes another…(just a little Sir Isaac Newton there)…

When we put up the bird feeders, and like expected, the birds came…in droves, then we added more feeders…during migration we had visitors on their way to many places…birds of all colors and kinds…some bold and bossy…some big, some small…just all kinds…Jeremy bought birdseed by the fifty pound bag…we had a feed mill in town that we bought it from…and the birds loved it…but with birds come problems, that’s where my story comes into play…birds attract predators…and with backyard feeders come hawks…the kind of hawk most attracted is the Cooper’s Hawk…it is a smaller hawk…the Red-tail Hawk picks on bigger meals, like rabbits and the Bald Eagle goes after bigger prey…but for the Cooper’s hawk songbirds are a perfect sized meal and if you have a hawk at your feeder, it Hawk, Cooper'sis most likely a Cooper’s Hawk…they are a beautiful bird even though they can cause problems at the feeders…

Now my story has nothing to do with a hawk and songbirds…even though I could tell you about the many times we saw a Cooper’s Hawk perching on the deck railing eating a Bluejay or some other bird…or on the logs around the fire ring…and we would see the feathers that it left after eating the bird…but birds are not stupid…they warn each other if a hawk is in the area…which is what happened the day my story happened…I was on the deck looking out at the backyard…it was all the sudden very quiet…no birds at the feeders and we knew when that happened there is a hawk in the area…the warning had gone out…but out on the ground under one of the feeders was a squirrel…just eating away…he evidently didn’t “get the word”…I looked around and didn’t see any birds or hawks in my view…now, for backyard bird feeder enthusiasts, squirrels are a pain…and unlike me, Cooper’s Hawks love squirrels…so I just sat and waited…

Minnesota Backyard 5It only took a few seconds of waiting…I don’t know if you have ever seen a hawk in motion or going in for the kill…but it is a natural and beautiful thing to behold…they are quick and lethal in their movements…this Cooper’s Hawk came gliding in completely silent…a couple of flaps and a long glide…it flew through trees and bushes gliding around all the trees we had planted so long ago…the squirrel all the sudden saw him out of the corner of his eye…and though he had ignored the earlier warning and had made himself a lonely and very obvious target, he ran for his life…the closest thing to him was one of our Colorado Blue Spruce…it was about 25 feet tall and about 20 feet from where he was…the hawk was right on him but missed him as he scampered into the tree…the hawk was now on the ground having missed him…but if you know about the Cooper’s Hawk, they will fly into Squirrel, Greyheavy brush or even run on the ground in pursuit…

The hawk did just that…this is what I had never seen before or since…the hawk ran into the blue spruce and climbed right after the squirrel, using his wings like we would our arms and hands…and he was quick about it…the squirrel went up, so did the hawk…the squirrel changed positions, so did the hawk…finally the squirrel must have realized as I did that he was “toast” if he kept on moving around…he found a place up high and hunkered down…so did the hawk…no one moved for a few seconds…then the squirrel tried to break down the tree, so did the Minnesota Backyardhawk…the squirrel decided that his best bet was to stay quiet…he was right, I don’t know if he even breathed…after a few more seconds…finally the hawk must have thought this was taking too much energy and time…he came out of the tree…probably said “Harrumph” a couple of times…and flew away…the squirrel after a minute or two came down and left for home and a nap…the birds???…they came back as if nothing had happened…me??? I sat there amazed…a once in a lifetime experience…

Okay, catch your breath…okay maybe not “that” good…but an okay story right???…and best of all it was all true…nature is wonderful…get out and enjoy it…plus we had a little lesson on life…a Biology lesson…and no one died…I’m giving myself some kudos for that…

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. That was a great lesson, Jim! I’ve seen a Coopers walking around on the ground, but never running up a tree!

    I too have noticed ecological sucession at work in areas I frequent, out here in central Ohio the Metro Parks system will burn selected fields every 3-5 years to keep them fields so as not to turn into woods.

    • Hi W.S….so good to hear from you…for sure, you would see this in your travels and it is the cause of unwanted wildfires in forests, prairies, etc…when we don’t allow nature to burn off grasses and other undergrowth…so controlled burns are the answer when they can do it…but when so many people live in these areas now, it is hard to do…

      As I remember from your blog you had a Cooper’s Hawk around where you live…maybe it was someone else…but I’m sure one was nearby, anyone who feeds birds would attract one or more…thanks again…Jim E

  2. Hi Jim! That was a great ecological story. I didn’t know any of it. And I love the story about the hawk and the squirrel. That would have been fascinating to observe. As a side note….my daughter is a chef at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant here. It’s the only one in Cincinnati, and only the 13th in the U.S. Before they opened, they had a family night and we were able to meet the owner, who was in town from Chicago. He explained to us how he came to name his restaurants Cooper’s Hawk, obviously after the bird. That was an interesting lesson about that bird also. Have a great holiday weekend!

    • Good morning Julie…thanks for the visit…great to hear from you…I have never heard of Cooper’s Hawk Restaurant but will look it up…we in Little Rock are a bit in the backwash of culture, etc…hey, we don’t even have a Dairy Queen yet…but we enjoy our life here…the heat is brutal though…we have had some “cooler” weather this summer which has been nice…but that is unusual, and the heat has come back with a vengeance…we have “had it” with the heat…and it can be another month before the A/C can go off for a little while…we Minnesotans never get used to the heat…summers in Minnesota can be hot too…but that’s in the 80’s…but used to say, “Summers are the reason why people live in Minnesota”…and why they put up with the winter…summers are great there…A/C not “on” all summer…there are many perfect days…highs in the high 70’s and low 80’s…nights and morning cool with dew on the grass…so I miss that but not the winters…though I loved those too…but the ice and snow are nice to miss…hopefully you are having a great summer…hey, I just read somewhere that Ohio doesn’t have any “natural lakes” is that true…I find it hard to believe but just wondered…enjoy your time this summer…fall is coming, for us, it is a long season and it’s great here…thanks again…Jim E


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