I usually have birdfeeders up during the winter. They’re usually a hotbed of jays, cardinals, titmouses (titmice?), sparrows, finches, and doves. And squirrels.
This year, I put up the feeders, and to date I’ve seen a few squirrels and two doves.
To say that I was confused would be an understatement.
I replaced the seed, wondering if maybe something was wrong with it, but still – no birds.
Then I got to talking to my neighbor, who is also a bird lover. She has a yard full of birds every year, doubly so because she has a pool, so the birds can get fresh water. She doesn’t have any birds either, but she kept finding piles of feathers in her yard. The first suspicion was cats, but we have no more roaming cats this year than we have had in the past. Then, one afternoon, she spotted the problem.
Instead of lots of little birds, we have Harold.
Harold, you see, is a Cooper’s Hawk. And Harold apparently figured out that bird feeders are literal, and can be used to feed finches to Harold as well as to feed thistle seed to finches. In fact, Harold was treating her bird feeder like a 24 hour, all-you-can-eat buffet. He has even figured out the bird-feeder-system so well that he will flyby the feeders, sending all the birds into the bushes, and then stalk along the ground, poking his head into the bushes and rustling out the songbirds. And then eating them.
It didn’t take long for all the little birds to leave. Not even the doves are coming to the feeders. He’s also chased off the wrens, a bird I have a strong affinity for (and have since I was a child), for which I’m rather sad. We’ve had several mating pairs of wrens at the house since we moved in, and this year they didn’t raise any babies, and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I know.
She has taken her feeders down, not out of spite for Harold, but because it’s a little unsettling to find the messy remains of Harold’s lunch on your lawn repeatedly. Regardless of how useful he is to the ecosystem, the piles of bloody feathers are a little sad.
I have to agree that it’s unsettling to see Nature take its course so obviously on your front lawn (I feel less unsettled by all the bugs in spiderwebs. Apparently I’m a bit sentimental about songbirds.) Harold has as much right as any of the other birds to be here, and predators are a crucial part of the ecosystem, be they red tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks, barred owls, or buzzards.
As much as I have an affinity for raptors, and as much as I like Harold’s stripey feathered pants, I feel a little bad attracting other birds to be his lunch. So I’m taking my feeders down as well.
Hopefully, without the feeders there to attract the songbirds, Harold will decide to go elsewhere for his all-you-can-eat buffet. And maybe next year we’ll have better luck birdwatching.
I’m going to take the rest of my birdseed and put it out for the squirrels though. No sense wasting it, and they’ll enjoy the snack as much as anyone.