Near misses

From this morning…

On a rooftop not too distant from me sat a mockingbird, its loud voice carrying easily on the still air.  From my vantage below it, the bird stood as a dark silhouette against a clear blue sky full of morning sunlight.

Cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, wrens and a great host of other winged creatures added their voices to a chorus of song.  Although aware of their comings and goings, my eyes settled upon the mockingbird as it seemed the most raucous neighbor at that moment.

From behind me came a menacing darkness, a darting thing of great speed.  It looped around the corner of the patio and quickly overtook the mockingbird’s position.

A peregrine falcon!

It turned in its assault such that its entire form from wingtip to wingtip took on the bright light of day.  Its sweeping attack came so quickly that I scarcely believed its speed and agility.

Yet its desire for a breakfast of mockingbird was not to be, at least not in this case.

Having fallen silent just as the falcon rounded the corner, the mockingbird stepped off the roof and dropped straight down into a tree, a fall of only a few meters/yards at most.

The peregrine missed it by no more than the width of a hand.

Talons empty and stomach still growling, the predator made a rapid loop to survey the tree from above, then it swept over the building and offered me one final glimpse of its full form in flight.  I could have tossed a stone and hit it on its way over me.

This exhilarating scene unfolded in no more than two seconds.  I was lucky to have witnessed it.

— — — — — — — — — —

From a few weeks ago…

Like me, many of my neighbors enjoy providing food to the many bird species that live here year-round and the visitors who overwinter here.

One such neighbor tosses a veritable banquet on the ground behind the shrubs that hide his patio from the world.  A carpet of lush grass covers the ground between his fence and the hedging.

With the sun directly overhead, I could see beneath the bushes as I returned home from a leisurely walk at the lake.  Through leaves and branches I saw blue jays, sparrows and a male cardinal vying for a bit of the bounty.

I paused.  While not wanting to approach for a better view lest I frighten them away from the table, I did want to watch for a brief time as the commotion was akin to organized chaos, each bird skipping, walking, hopping or flitting from spot to spot, each demanding a bit of room when someone else invaded their space.

A great shadow swept over me and away, a dark form swiftly heading toward the gathering behind the bushes.

Cooper’s hawks specialize in capturing other birds.  They are masters of the element of surprise.

This one made that clear.

Its path over me carried it in an abrupt descent toward the bushes, a rapid approach just below the height of the shrubs that kept it from being seen by the other birds.  From behind I watched it with the sudden idea that it would run headlong into the foliage.

At the last moment, just when it seemed it would indeed become entangled in the greenery, the hunter turned on its side and quickly arced up and over the bushes into a breathtaking nosedive right into the middle of the feeding frenzy.

It looked like a bomb had gone off inside a birdcage.

Wings fluttered, squawks and screams filled the air, and birds flew in every direction.

Talons still empty, the hawk looped up into the air and made a tight turn as it gave chase after a blue jay who fled toward a nearby tree.

The brilliant cyan and black and white vanished quickly into the tree’s upper branches with the hawk right behind it.  Yet again at the last minute, the hawk turned and swept up over the tree so near to it that the leaves rustled from the passing of its wings.

It then flew over the tree a second time before climbing over the treetops and out of sight.

In the few seconds it took for this to happen, I was offered several stunningly clear and close views of the predator, and I witnessed maneuvers so impressive that I realized only afterward that I had held my breath the entire time.

— — — — — — — — — —

From a few months ago…

A cloudy day.  The sky a nondescript slate with featureless clouds that made it impossible to know where above them the sun hid.

Sipping an ale and standing quietly, I heard the telltale warning of squirrels in the distance, then more nearer my location, then the screeching of mockingbirds telling an enemy that it has been seen.

Muffled by the constant breeze and foliage sucking the sound from the air like a green vampire, I looked this way and that trying to isolate the direction of this commotion.

To my right.

I turned, looked, saw.

A mourning dove soared by at eye level, its course carrying it in a tight approach to the tree outside the patio fence.

An arm’s length behind it soared a red-tailed hawk, wings held wide, feathers splayed like fingers, tail expertly rippling from side to side to help control speed and direction.  It seemed to be closing the gap on the dove, a result of the direct line of flight that had carried them to my realm.

Gaining on the hawk was a mockingbird giving chase.  The well-being of the dove meant little, I’m sure, but a mockingbird does not suffer the presence of any threat no matter its form.

The disparity in sizes from small to large to small made for a fascinating view, especially with the nimble speed with which this avian train approached and passed me.  And their nearness—just outside the fence and low to the ground—offered me a grand opportunity to witness the pursuit.

Passing the tree at a rapid pace, the dove made a tight turn—much tighter than the hawk could accomplish—and accelerated around the corner of the patio and toward the cover of trees.  The massive predator attempted a short arc so that it could remain behind the prey, but its larger form caused it to sweep away from the dove.

That moment of hesitation and uncertainty by the hunter gave the third pursuer the moment it needed.  Its feet held out as thought to land, the mockingbird struck the hawk in the middle of the back.

This served to push the hawk further away from the turn it was attempting, at which point it quickly rotated in the opposite direction and headed up over the trees surrounding the nearby creek.  It knew the element of surprise had been lost, the opportunity to catch the dove with speed becoming nothing more than a distant hope fading into the past.

And for its part, the mockingbird remained behind its larger avian cousin.  Both vanished behind the treeline.

I barely had time to realize what was happening before the encounter ended.

Leave a Reply