Dear Aiken Audubon…

“What should I feed the owl in my backyard?”
“How can I keep those spotted woodpeckers from waking me up at 5 a.m.?”
“Do you sell bluebird houses?”
“Do you have programs for children?”
“What bird is this?”

When our Audubon chapter website encourages people to “Contact Aiken Audubon,” the  emails come to me. I’m the “real person” behind the Aiken email address. It’s fun. I never know what I’m going to find in my inbox!

Sometimes coming up with an answer is easy. Yes, children are welcome at our programs. No, we don’t sell nest boxes. Owls eat mice; we suggest you let it forage on its own.

Some questions are more challenging. I can make suggestions for foiling flickers (see my story and our solution), but the only foolproof deterrent I’ve found is a physical barrier—my husband and I ended up hanging bird netting on the sides and back of our cedar-sided home; now the flickers only make holes on the front!

Some emails just leave me scratching my head:

I am assisting a man doing a documentary on early aviation. What was a predatory bird Denver 1910 that could be used for poetic use to symbolize early aviation?

Sometimes people think that we can work miracles:

Recently the city has put up netting under the Colorado Ave. bridge to keep the pigeons from roosting there. Some of the birds have gotten trapped. Please do something.

But it’s the ID questions that have me pulling out my hair.

Everyone wants to know what kind of bird they saw. Photos can be useful, but often they look like this one. Do you see the bird in this picture? It’s on the back of the bench, kind of behind the reflection from the mini-blinds hanging in the window. That’s its tail facing the camera.

Other times we simply get a vague description: “What’s that big white bird at the intersection of Palmer Park and Academy Blvd.?” (Happily, I was able to answer that one—there’s a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk that is frequently seen on the light post there. As she grows steadily whiter, she becomes easier and easier to spot.)

Once in a while we get a terrific photo and a question that has me doing research, contacting more knowledgeable birders, and learning something new. That’s what happened with this email from a very observant lady named Mary:

I am a local and took this photo in my backyard.

We watched this hawk (?) for three days. … The first day the hawk caught a rabbit and … [ate some of it]. It left and we waited for all the other smaller birds to come and “finish off” the feast. However, none came. The next morning, the hawk came back … and ate some more. [Again,] no birds showed up, … but no other animals came to take part in the rabbit. It seemed very different than what we have witnessed with other birds of pray [sic]. The third day came and the hawk showed up and finished the rabbit… to the bones.

I hope you can help in answering our questions: what type of bird, is it unusual to see this type of bird as we have not seen these type of markings, how does this hawk keep the other animals away from its competitors.

Can you ID this bird? I wasn’t sure, so I ended up asking some more experienced birders, and we cobbled together the following reply:

The group opinion is that your birds was a Northern Goshawk. They’re in a family of hawks called accipiters, which also includes Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. Goshawks are larger than either of those. Accipiters normally eat other birds, but I imagine if a rabbit was available they would eat it.

As far as the other birds finishing off the rabbit, two possibilities come to mind. First, if the goshawk was still in the area, the other birds would be afraid of it (and rightly so). They would stay away, as the goshawk could just as easily eat them.

Secondly, most small birds don’t eat dead rabbits. They eat bugs and seeds. It’s too early in the year for vultures (they migrate here next month). Crows, magpies, and ravens would eat the rabbit, but again, they might not want to mess with a goshawk.

Goshawks are rather unusual for this area, but they do occur here. That’s partly why it took so long to come up with an ID. We’re all jealous that you had one in your backyard!

One thing is for sure. The more questions I get, the more I learn about birds… and people!

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3 Responses to Dear Aiken Audubon…

  1. Karin says:

    How fun!! It is interesting to be on the receiving end of questions like that. Nice that it’s email, so you don’t always have to reply instantly… you can do a little research and double check ids.

  2. Hi there. Great picture of the Hawk in your backyard! I live in Toronto, Canada, and recently, my wife, Jean, and I came upon an adult Red-tailed Hawk in Markham, Ontario. We have read that stalking a hawk is no easy task,that you have to sneak up on them when they are looking the other way. Well, this Hawk was only looking one way when it landed, and that was right at us! Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at: http://frametoframe.ca/photo-essay-red-tailed-hawk-sighting-markham-ontario

    • LAH says:

      Thanks for visiting my blog! I very much wish that hawk had been in my backyard, but the photo was taken by someone else (who lives a few miles away) and the bird was in her yard.

      I enjoyed reading your blog. You have some great shots of the hawk, showing the white “V” on its back.

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