2013-12-31 / Columns

The Bright Side

City Bird, Country Bird
by Annie Bright

Watching the antics of a bird can be amusing and sometimes confusing. The other day while waiting on my grandson’s school bus, I had such an experience. There is an old half dead maple tree across the street from her house in Spencer. One of the limbs has been sawed off about four feet from the trunk. I noticed a bird perched there, pecking away on the underneath side of the dead limb. The shape of his long bill and his actions told me it was a woodpecker of some sort. Because of the sun, I couldn’t really determine the species. The bird was a black silhouette as his head moved back and forth, chipping off pieces of the limb. The dull sound of his pounding beak was faint against the sounds of town traffic. Chips of wood fell to the ground as he worked. It didn’t take long for him to make a hole, then his head would disappear in the limb for a few seconds. He was eating lunch, I’m sure.

As his pecking continued, the hole got deeper; soon only part of his tail feathers would stick out of the hole he was creating. Woodpeckers will nest in such cavities, but this hole faced downward, no way a nest would stay in it. He was working very hard for his lunch. I finally determined, that I was watching a red-bellied woodpecker. Eventually, he completely disappeared in the cavity for a few seconds. I imagine he was filling his craw with larva that thought they were hiding away safely for the winter. After he had eaten all he could hold, he flew to the big maple tree behind her house. Maybe he has a nest there. I will watch for him when I visit. One does not have to live out in the country to observe wildlife.

After a couple of really soggy days last week, the sun came out. We were all glad to feel the warmth of the sun. So was the group of buzzards I saw on the way to town. About a dozen of the big, black birds were standing in a field beside the road. They all had their wings spread out. Drying their feathers in the sun, they stood there like statues as I drove by. Only one moved, slowly turning to watch my car pass. Buzzards are big birds; their bodies are two feet long. Standing there having a confab they looked impressive and funny. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me.

The next day, as I drove by the same field, I was really irritated at myself for not having my camera. Standing there in almost the same spot, were two buzzards and a magnificent redtailed hawk. The buff colored chest of the hawk caught my eye first. His talons were wrapped around a blood red piece of meat. The crimson flesh was a rabbit. He looked so regal, his body held erect as he glared at me. (I stopped the car.) The two buzzards, one on each side of the hawk, were dancing back and forth, wanting a piece of the kill. Although they were larger, they had enough sense not to tangle with him. For some reason the scene reminded me of a superhero and his two sidekicks. The hawk was definitely the star of that morning’s movie.

I often see red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) along Jordan Village Road. I wondered where his mate was as they mate for life. They are probably the most common hawk in North America. If you’ve sharp eyes you can spot them as you drive. Red-tailed hawks soar above open fields, slowly turning circles on their broad, rounded wings. Look for them atop telephone poles or perched high in trees, eyes searching for the movements of a vole or a rabbit. The Redtailed hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds like a raptor should sound – powerful and frightening.

They are amazingly adapted for life in the air. The Red-tailed hawk is one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, yet even the biggest females weigh in at only about three pounds. Mammals make up the bulk of most red-tailed hawk meals. Frequent victims include voles, mice, wood rats, rabbits, snowshoe hares, jackrabbits, and ground squirrels. The hawks also eat birds, including pheasants, bobwhite, starlings, and blackbirds; as well as snakes and carrion. Individual prey items can weigh anywhere from less than an ounce to more than five pounds. They do a great job of helping keep the rodent population under control.

It isn’t too soon to plan an outing to see the eagles. I received the following information from the Indiana DNR last week. If you make New Year’s resolutions, let one of them be to spend more time enjoying the wonders of nature.

Winter Bald Eagle Watches

•January 4 – Patoka Lake (812-685-2447)

•January 18 – Mississinewa Lake (260-468-2127)

•January 24-26 – Eagles in Flight Weekend at Turkey Run State Park (765-597-2654). Live eagle, owl and hawk programs, road trips to eagle nests and hunting grounds, a huge silent auction and more.

•February 15-16 – Salamonie Lake with afternoon programs, carpooling to view birds and evening roost watching (260-468- 2127) Early registration is required.

Closer to home we have Goose Pond, Cagles Mill (Cataract) Lake and Lake Monroe. Check out their websites for more information on winter activities.

‘til next time,


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