Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Standoff

Originally posted to MAINE-BIRDS...

This morning: "Our pheasant is back!"
Fifteen seconds later: "There's another one!"

And within a minute we were watching five of them, two cocks and three hens, from the dining room window. They gathered under the burning bush and wandered a bit. They were unfazed by cars passing 20 feet away.

Getting ready for work took precedence over pheasant watching, but during one pass by the window I noticed they were looking pretty skittish. A neighbor across the street? No. Nothing out of the ordinary until... "Hey, Scott, there's a hawk out there."

Indeed there was. Perched in the burning bush, less than a meter away from the five prospective breakfasts, was a large accipiter. For the next ten minutes, I watched a fascinating game of cat and mouse, as the hawk tried to catch one of the pheasants.

The accipiter flew around the bush, but the pheasants kept moving to the opposite side. The hawk tried catching them on foot (first time I've seen a hawk "run" like that), but the prey were too quick. One cock pheasant made a break across the yard, but the hawk was unable to snag it before it reached the blackberry hedge.

Finally, a hen got separated from the group and the hawk made its move. But she turned on him, spread herself out, and the hawk stopped in its tracks. They froze like that for a tense twenty seconds before the hawk decided it didn't know how to finish the job. It flew off into nearby trees, then flushed out of the yard when the neighbor kid went to catch the school bus.

It was a hatch-year accipiter far too big to be a sharpshin. My impression of size put it in the overlap zone of Cooper's and Goshawk. Book illustrations suggest it had the face of a goshawk and the tail of a Cooper's. Even with all that time staring at it, I don't feel confident pinning it down to species. Would a Cooper's Hawk go after a pheasant?

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