Sunday, January 8, 2012

The escape

My heart is still racing! Just a few minutes ago the dogs began barking and I heard blue jays screaming outside. I ignored the dogs for a minute but they became more insistent and I've learned to pay attention when they are like that.

I raced outside following them as they ran from the door just as two birds apparently fused together flew up from the ground towards the edge of the property. They only managed about 20 feet of flight and not more than 10 feet in height.

Yelling at the dogs to leave it, I ran over to see what was going on, hearing a jay's mewling cry... and I realized a sharp-shinned hawk had caught a blue jay.

As I drew close the hawk tried to lift the still mewling jay but rose no more than about five feet off the ground to crash land into the snow again barely eight feet away, wings and tail spread, head twisted as it held onto the blue jay. When I was about two feet away the hawk rose in the air but its hold on the jay wasn't strong enough and the blue jay flew away screeching "I'm free I'm free!" The hawk followed swiftly, but I doubt it caught it again.

I seldom interfere when nature takes its course like that, but this time it was going to end badly... the jay was far too heavy for the small hawk which was not quite as big as the blue and gray bird. It couldn't kill it immediately and might itself get hurt in the struggle. Sharp-shinned hawks aren't nearly as plentiful as blue jays around here. So I plunged into the snowbank - in open toed gardening shoes (not too bright since my feet are now freezing!)

The hawk will continue to haunt the area and is likely right now perched in a nearby tree since there are few birds insight anywhere, in trees, bushes or at any of the many feeders around the house. Hopefully it will catch it's breakfast soon. And hopefully too it won't be quite so ambitious as to try to take down a bird bigger than itself.

I've only seen this once before, but it was a successful raid - or at least as far as I saw it - with the sharp-shinned struggling to fly away, a mourning dove in its talons. It reminded me of the prow of an ancient Viking ship - the dove's head still up and very much alive. An image that's burned into my memory it was so strange.

So we've had an exciting start to the day. And I am pleased that the dogs left the two birds when I told them too - a few short years ago that wouldn't have been the case.

And please forgive that I didn't think to take my camera with me  and get a photo of the two crashed birds in the snow (I've used a fall image of blue jays on the deck instead) - I'll never forget the sight and maybe some day will try to draw it. And the lesson for me was of course - always be ready with that camera!

What lesson will you be given the chance to learn today?


  1. Wow, what a sighting! I am kind of glad you helped the jay. I'm sure the Sharpie got another meal.

  2. Thank you both for stopping by - yes it was a very exciting experience. I found out later by looking in my Sibley's guide that it was a juvenile as I'd thought after it was all over. The jay was probably a juvie as well, both inexperienced and both lucky it ended well. I'm sure Eileen, that the little hawk did get breakfast later - afterall there are about 100 little birds around here and the cats find mice and moles frequently even under the snow... and there isn't much of that right now.

    thanks again for your kind words.