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Birding Focus: Interesting stories of our feathered friends.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
© George H. Harrison

Feeder Hawks

Winter is the time of the year to see hawks attacking and eating birds at bird feeders. The typical scenario is a flock of songbirds quietly eating at feeders, when all of a sudden, a hawk swoops in and panics the birds into flight. A talented hawk may capture one of the songbirds in its talons, and then fly to a nearby tree to eat it.

Some hawks learn that even if they miss on the first pass, a bird may fly into a window in panic, and make an easy prey on the hawk's second pass.

Many people are shocked at the sight of a hawk eating a songbird. Yet, it is all part of the balance of nature. Hawks have to eat, too, and a bird feeder is the perfect place to find their food.

There are two species of hawks responsible for most of the predation on feeder birds: the Cooper's hawk and the slightly smaller sharp-shinned hawk. Except for size, they are almost identical in appearance. The larger Cooper's has a slightly rounded tail, while the sharpie has a square tail. Both have long tails and short wings for pursuing small birds through trees and bushes.

As with all hawks, these two are protected by state and federal laws, and cannot be harmed.

So, the solution is to live with them, as we live with other bird feeder problems, such as gluttonous squirrels and bully European starlings. It's just a slice of life in the backyard habitat.

-- George H. Harrison