By Bruce Stambaugh
Some people might think that breakfast is for the birds. I’m not one of them. I never miss breakfast.
Breakfast is one of my necessary routines. I’m not much of a cook, but, despite the fact that I am a man, I can certainly pour cereal into a bowl and juice into a glass. Along with some fruit, that is my usual morning feast, day in and day out.
I seldom dine alone. If the backyard birds are feeding, I often stand at the kitchen window and enjoy my morning meal as my feathered friends peck at theirs. This particular morning, I was seated at the breakfast bar, where I can still view the hanging feeders.
I had just begun to crunch my mini-wheats when I heard the flock of birds outside the window take flight. The Mourning Doves were especially noticeable, with their thrashing wings and eerie, frightened call.
Clearly they had been startled. My first inclination was to blame the local Cooper’s Hawk. The feisty bird of prey makes frequent surprise raids on neighborhood feeders.
I suspected that the small hawk was after its breakfast as well. I checked the ground around the feeders. The ice-covered snow was void of any birds. A lone Mourning Dove sat frozen in fear next to the hopper feeder on the old porcelain-topped table beside the back porch. That told me to keep searching for the hawk.
I scoured the stately sugar maple where the hawk had been known to perch, waiting for any unsuspecting songbird. The dormant tree branches were bare.
I quickly scanned the row of white pines. No hawk visible there either. I headed to the front window, thinking the Cooper’s Hawk may have tried the feeders in the front yard. There it was.
The Cooper’s Hawk sat on the snow about 20 yards beyond the Colorado blue spruce that shelters the feeders. Beneath the hawk was what looked to be a Mourning Dove. Feathers from the hawk’s victim were scattered in a broad circle around the hunter and the hunted.
The Cooper’s Hawk kept looking around, wary of any predators that might try to steal its avian granola. I put the long lens on my camera as rapidly as I could, and shot several pictures.
All the while, the hawk squeezed its prey with its sharp talons. At one point, it shook loose some feathers that had stuck in its equally sharp bill. From time to time, the wounded Mourning Dove would wiggle its tail in a futile attempt to escape.
Between camera clicks, the hawk flew west with its catch. I rushed to the sliding glass door that leads to the back porch. There, beneath one of the pines at the edge of our property, the hawk sat with the dove still tightly clenched and pressed to the cold ground.
Before I could raise my camera, the accipiter launched low to the south with its catch and was instantly out of sight. I wondered if it had sought refuge in the pines or continued into the small deciduous woods on the other side of the neighbor’s.
Either way, the crafty hawk was likely enjoying its fresh, nourishing breakfast. I returned to mine, sorry for the dove, but glad I had been witness to the way the biological world really works.