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Bird Feeder Surprises


Typically, you put out bird feeders to attract chickadees, cardinals and other small birds. Occasionally your bird feeder turns into a larger bird preying on the small birds that you have attracted to your yard.  Although hawks and falcons need to eat, and they are neat to see, it is unfortunate if they spend too much time at your bird buffet. 

I have learned to place my feeders strategically to help the smaller birds escape an attack from a hawk. If the feeder is close to the house, the hawk can trap the birds and pick them off with ease. Making sure the birds have cover close by like a hedge or bushes also helps. 

The most common hawks you see in your backyard are Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks. 

They hunt other birds, and they can grab a bird out of the air. A backyard with a feeder makes an easy meal for them.  They look really similar to each other, and it can be difficult to know which bird you are seeing.  I had a Cooper’s hawk coming to the yard and then one day I looked out and my Cooper’s Hawk had shrunk. The much smaller Sharp-shinned hawk was perched in my lilac tree. There are other differences to look at such as the shape of the tail, head, and in the adult if they appear capped or hooded. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The red-tailed hawk is a much larger hawk and has a distinctive belly band that helps to identify it. Typically, they hunt in fields, and you often see them perched along the roadway on telephone poles or fence posts as they look for rodents and rabbits. They don’t often hang out at feeders, and I was surprised to see one in my backyard. 

Red-tailed Hawk

Sometimes you might be lucky enough to see a Merlin. This tiny falcon is a fierce hunter. I was fortunate to see a nesting pair when I was visiting friends in Ottawa. The lady that lived in a nearby house had to take down her bird feeders because the Merlins were getting too many of the birds at her feeder. While I was there, the Merlin had recently caught what looked like a squirrel and was eating it fairly low down in a tree and I managed to get a few images of it enjoying its dinner. 


Hopefully if you have backyard feeders your visits from hawks will not be too frequent! Happy Backyard Birding!

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