No Wonder in Hunger

For little ground-feeding birds especially, snowfall merely increases danger from above

I think the wistful wonder engendered by a beautiful coastal snowfall must surely be a luxury reserved solely for humans with nothing better to do.

If working people, for instance, had to flail blindly about under a covering carpet of snow in pursuit of the biscotti and venti latte they need to survive a busy morning at the office — as creatures of the forest must every day scratch and scrape for sustenance needed for their actual survival — I’m pretty sure that every semblance of poetic romance inherent in snowfall would evaporate in the space of a human heartbeat.

To most wild creatures (not least, the little ground-feeding birds shown at the start and end of the video above) snowfall must seem much less wondrous — and potentially much more perilous — than most people can imagine. For as they wait in line at Starbucks, humans rarely need worry that a hungry predator lurking unseen in the rafters above — keenly watching, waiting, hoping — might descend and dine al fresco … on them.

Snowfall brought this Cooper’s hawk into my back yard full of hope, I’m sure, that the clammy cold confusion it created among the bite-sized birds below might in turn create an easy snack for him. This hope brought him close enough to me — where he waited long enough for opportunity to appear — that I was able to set up a camera to record and observe him in greater detail than ever before.

What a handsome bird! Those piercing red eyes speak volumes — so sharp and intense, constantly shifting their laser focus up-down, left-right — could any edible creature moving above or below hope to escape detection?

I saw even more of this hawk after he flew, when I rushed to review the video. Thanks to the incredible optical zoom and stunning clarity of 4K digital recording provided by my patron saint (Sony), I could clearly see — for the first time ever in my own experience — a hawk’s tongue! With a few other interesting behaviors in evidence as well, it was such a pleasure to watch and record this beautiful predator as I stood at the furthest wild reaches of … my kitchen, looking out my back window.

Deciding at last to take matters into his own hands — er, talons — the hawk surprised me by jetting earthward in a flash of feathers to stand ankle-deep in the snow at the edge of my deck. What I hadn’t noticed, but his red eyes had not missed, was that some of the small ground-feeding birds, his prey du jour, were taking cover in the dry space under the boards. I have seen this hawk on other occasions land and charge into the brush where his dinner often hides, willing and apparently able to go mano a mano to satisfy his love of fricasseed chickadee. Having stalked so close to such sweet morsels he could all but taste them — yet not quite reach them — he made a half-hearted dive at them anyway, making perfectly clear before he left, I think, precisely what to expect from him “next time.”

It doesn’t often snow on the Oregon Coast, but this occasion in particular was — for reasons other than its wondrous, poetic beauty — a snowfall to remember.

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