Birding can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated. I have many times spoken excitedly with coworkers about a bird I’d seen that morning and sensed that they were feigning interest while quietly wishing I’d just hurry up and finish my story. (I do the same thing when people talk excitedly about their favorite team winning a game.) If you haven’t made the connection yourself, it is hard to see what the fuss is about.
There are two main types of birding: planned and unplanned. Unplanned is the best—it’s like getting an unexpected bonus. A third kind is a blend of the two, just noticing local bird-life as you go about your day, the no-big-deal birds because you see them all the time. This is still birding, but not the kind you write home about. So between the three, we are always either birding, or ready to be birding on short notice. Sometimes we eat and get some sleep.
I was taking a small bag of garbage out to the receptacle on the street the other morning and noticed a bird, startled by my presence, flush from the ground in the empty lot across the street. The lot there is cleared for new construction and I see doves, pigeons, and sparrows there all the time, but this bird was bigger so I stopped and focused. It was a hawk of some kind, with prey in its grip, flying straight into our property.
I went back in the gate and looked around, but could not spot it. Then a few minutes later I heard the Blue Jays start squawking and crying. This is reliable hawk-alert behavior for jays. They hate raptors and are fearless in their efforts to expel them from their territory. They will scream and dive-bomb a hawk until it gets fed up and leaves. This I have seen many times now. So I followed the noise and located the bird, halfway up an oak, perched on a thick branch and dining on its prey. I could see the striped tail and for sure had a Cooper’s Hawk up there.
This tree happens to be located next to the apartment building so I grabbed my camera and headed to the rooftop with the intention of sneaking up and getting a photo. There’s plenty of foliage between myself and the oak up there, but I did find a gap that afforded a nice view, without the hawk noticing me. The above photo is the result.
I watched for a while as the jays kept at it, the hawk ignoring them and picking away it is victim. I could not see what unlucky bird it was, but statistically most likely a White-winged Dove, the most plentiful hawk prey around here.
So there you have it: I was minding my own business, doing a mundane chore, and all of a sudden I’m birding. I know what you’re thinking and you are right: we birders are all nuts. What we do borders on the sort of compulsive behavior that some would think needs treatment. Maybe so, but as maladies go this one is pretty enjoyable.