Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

February 6, 2009

Sharpie on a Starling

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:25 am

And in one corner you have Sturnus vulgaris weighting in at two and three-quarter ounces and a wingspan of tee-welve and one-half inches. In the other we have the contender, hailing from the far side of the tracks, a 13 inch-spanner by the name of Accipiter striatus who tips the scales at six and one-half ounces on the nose.  Bing! The fight is on with a left dash for the corner by Sturny and a counter left by Ms. Striatus. Sturny delivers a right flight,then another left before the out-towner closes in. Wham. The Sturn is on the ropes. Striatus goes for the knockout and then the kill. Oh, this fight is over, ladies and gentlemen. In less than sixteen and three quarter seconds Striatus has defeated her opponent.

To tell the truth, I was late to the fight. It was over before I happened upon the cornfield ring just off Reinhardt road. I will admit to faking the action details, but the contenders, a Starling (Sturnus) and a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Striatus), were real and the result was as reported.  As you can see by the above photo (and this better shot here), the slightly larger Sharpie had just downed her blackbird prey and was getting ready to enjoy the fruits of her labor when rudely interrupted by yours truly. I was in my truck and she was just of the road. She definitely delivered the stink eye in my direction as you can see below.

I’ve come across quite a number of bird “kill sites” this winter but all were long after the event ended and the crowds had gone home. Snow shadows were the only record of these incidents. Here, finally, I was witness to the real thing. This “real thing” is not a rare event, mind you, but one only occasionally witnessed. If you have a bird feeder, it is very likely that you’ve seen this before, although the results were not always the same. The chase is always short and either the kill is made quickly or the prey makes a clean getaway.  Most of the time, the prey gets away.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest true hawks in North America. They are bird-eaters in the same vein as the larger Cooper’s Hawk and much larger Goshawks. Because of their size, these robin-sized predators are limited to perching bird fare which includes Robins, Sparrows, and, obviously, Starlings. The size of the chosen prey differs between the female and male birds because there is a notable size difference between the two. Males are the petite ones at 9-12 inches in length whereas the gals pick up where they leave off and reach sizes of around 12 -14 inches. The slightly larger females can tackle slightly larger prey. I believe the bird pictured here was a female based on a scale comparison between it and the lifeless bird beneath her, but I can’t really be sure. There was no lipstick or handbag in evidence. I can be sure that it was a juvenile bird, however.

First year birds have the full body size of adulthood, but they have yellow eyes and a brown streaked breast. Adult Sharp-shins have blood red eyes, befitting their occupation, and a rufous barred breast with a slate colored back. The fact is that most of the first year birds never get to be second year adults because of the difficulty of the lifestyle. It ain’t easy tracking down and killing living food and they themselves often fall victim to the larger members of their own clan.

I was able to flip into movie mode in anticipation that the bird would start to pluck her prey, as is tradition see here Unfortunately, my presence and the approach of another car resulted in a performance consisting of a series of nervous glances. She eventually launched into the air with her heavy cargo, made a cumbersome low flight over the road, and glided into the security of a nearby patch of evergreens. There, safe from prying eyes, she could begin the plucking and eating process in peace.

The snow at her eating spot will record what happened. There will be a few spots of blood, a pile of feathers, wing marks and a tail rub. Perhaps another curious naturalist will come upon the spot and take a photo of it, but this one is content with witnessing the real show for a change.

1 Comment »

  1. I just found your blog on google. I really liked it and now I will share it with my friends.

    Comment by ahmed tahran — February 28, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

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