The Hawk Is Here!

A Cooper's Hawk uses a bird bath as a perch from which to scout prey.

Those familiar with Chicago trivia know that when Chicagoans speak of “The Hawk” they are referring to their city’s biting winter winds.  (“I was born in a city they called the Windy City.  And they called it the Windy City because of the Hawk.  The Hawk.  The all mighty Hawk.  Mr. Wind.,” from Dead End Street recorded by Lou Rawls.  )  In my yard, the approaching winter brings the hawk, too.  But, I don’t mean the wind.  While sipping my morning coffee, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk scouting the area for snacks.  I saw one on my bird bath last week also.    It showed no interest in the water.  It was perched there looking for prey.  In warm weather, these fascinating raptors are satisfied with the abundance of food they find in the forest preserve savannah and prairie just a few blocks away from my home.  But during the winter, they come by my feeders from time to time for a meal.  It’s fascinating to watch them hunt and, sometimes, succeed.  It’s nature.  It’s survival.  When one regularly stocks feeders to attract backyard birds, surprising things happen.  So, winter winds are coming.  I know because my “Hawk” is here.

I have a habit of giving things names.  I even give names to inanimate objects like the ceramic cat crouching on the livingroom floor and peering out from behind my peace plant as if ready to spring.  The cat’s name is Gauthier (French for Walter).  My hawk has been hanging around for enough winters now.  I think it’s time to name him.  What do you think I should name my hawk?

Today’s birding mission is going to pick up 40 pounds of winter mix seed.  The Dark-eyed Juncos are back for the season and the winter seed includes millet just for them.  The Juncos are ground feeders and the millet that spills from the feeder provides them with a welcome meal.  They are gentle little birds.  Glad to see you back for the season, little ones!  I think I’ll pick up some shelled peanuts at the bird shop, too.  I use them as very special treats to coax Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches to land and feed from my hand.  In the bitter depth of winter they’re stressed enough to accept food from humans.

Since the arboretum where I am a member is so nearby my wild bird specialty store, I will certainly take a drive through.  The arboretum is a special place for me.  There has never been a time that I have not felt as though I left all my cares behind at the gate as I drive in.  I won’t forget walks in the bitter winter cold enjoying the snow on a calm, bright and cloudless day.  I won’t forget driving in to spend a quiet lunch hour far away from office politics.  I won’t forget the wonder of family and friends I’ve brought along for a visit.  I won’t forget the time I saw a Red-tailed Hawk, just yards away from me, swoop down from his perch on a dead tree snag to carry off a mouse.  I won’t forget that special walk on a spectacularly beautiful, warm  and delicious day-after-Columbus Day.  It was wonderful sitting on a bench admiring the autumn colors and the stand of pines in the distance.  Just last week I spotted a yearling in a meadow and a beaver swimming in the river.  Today, the autumn color will be spent.  But the memories linger and the anticipation of the next visit excites.

Later…..      I’m back from that drive through the arboretum where I came upon a Great Blue Heron wading in the river at just about the same spot where I saw the beaver last week.  I stopped and pulled out the binoculars I keep handy on the floor of my car’s back seat.  Wow!  What piercing eyes!  After watching the bird for a few minutes – SPLASH!  It plunged its head in the water and came up with a rather good-sized fish!  Yummy!  There were a few people around on foot near the river in obvious awe of the large water bird.  The bird didn’t seem to mind.

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