Monday, November 9, 2009

Birds of prey

Have you ever noticed how tenacious birds of prey are in pursuit of their supper?

A red shouldered hawk frequents the southern oaks behind our villa. I observed him sitting on a nearby branch for at least 15 minutes. I assumed he was waiting for one of the unsuspecting squirrels that romped through the branches.

He sat frozen, except for his eyes that darted from limb to limb. While he waited, a flock of finches gathered; first one or two birds, and then a huge swarm. They chattered away, calling attention to their common enemy waiting beneath them.

Would they have the nerve to dive-bomb him or attack him, I wondered? The hawk didn’t wait to find out. Exasperated, he flew off to find a new perch.

An osprey chose his hunting site in a dead tree at the south end of our pond. I took a picture of him as he scanned the water searching for fish. When he spotted his prey, he lifted off with wide wings and literally performed what looked like water skiing as he skimmed the water's surface.

His sturdy legs and clawed feet sent out a spray of water before he lifted upward, clutching a huge sunfish. I’m told that ospreys have valves in their nostrils which close on impact, preventing the water from getting inside. Their feathers also repel water from an oily substance that coats the plumage. The osprey made a great catch without having to dive in as many other birds do.

Because tree owls hunt mainly at night, it is rare to see them. Their keen hearing protects them as they sleep during the day, and helps them pinpoint their prey even in the dark of night.

On my daily walk, I saw a suspicious shape in a tree. I chalked it up to my vivid imagination, but instinct pulled me closer. When I was only a few feet away, the owl’s eyes flew open. His keen hearing alerted him to my presence. The owl blended so well into the bark that until I saw the yellow of his eyes, I was never really certain.

The owl was sitting on a limb that was much too close to the ground for his safety. He must have fallen asleep before sunrise and didn’t recognize the danger. His seeming negligence didn’t last. Before I could get a picture, he took off, flying swiftly but surely to safer climbs.