Hawk vs Jay

3.1.18


 Bird on bird

Bird on bird

Today, a hawk swooped down and nailed a blue jay that was snacking on birdseed on the ground beneath the feeders that hang outside my kitchen window. I happened to be on the phone with a client, which was awkward since I became entirely engrossed in this drama. Lots of other birds were around—chickadees, more jays, goldfinches, juncoes, mourning doves, nuthatches and sparrows (our feeders are stocked with thistle seed, a millet mix and black sunflower seeds)—and they darted about making quite a racket. Their cries failed to drown out the desperate screams of the jay victim, however, which were painful to hear and went on for what seemed like forever.

 Fierce beauty [photo: Miriam Bauman]

Fierce beauty [photo: Miriam Bauman]

I'm still not great at identifying hawks; their similarities seem to outnumber their differences to my untrained eye. This fall, I went to the top of Sunrise Mountain to watch the raptor migration and learn to identify the various species in the air, but on the ground there's a different set of clues. The hawk that landed on this jay was small, not much bigger than its prey, and looked to have a reddish breast, leading me to think it could be a Cooper's hawk like the one pictured here, not what I believe is a sharp-shinned hawk in the previous photo.

 Memento mori [photo: Henry Hartley]

Memento mori [photo: Henry Hartley]

Sadly, the jay was not killed on impact, which you hear is common as the force of the hawk's landing can often snap the prey's back. Instead, the hawk pecked continually at the jay's neck and breast, dislodging a flurry of soft downy feathers but not seeming to do much damage otherwise. The jay screamed, the other birds screamed and I experienced the agony of the moment most intensely—even rising at one point to throw open the window before I thought better of it. This is nature at its most basic, the food chain in action, the natural course of things. 

I buried my cat this week and feel acutely aware of how helpless we are in the face of death. To embrace loss as a part of life is one of our greatest challenges and one we must rise to meet gracefully with open hearts.

Laura SilvermanComment