Hawk v Dove: Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Hawk v Dove: Nature Red in Tooth and Claw
Hawk Descending by Rick Leinen at NW Bird blog

Have you ever seen a hawk attack a dove? I mean literally. Seems impossible, right? Even metaphoric. Yet, one day, over my morning coffee, this is what I saw. I was sipping said coffee when I noticed a flurry of activity on the roof of a garage across the alley. Stepping closer to the window I see what looks like a hawk with some kind of prey in its claws.

So, that’s interesting… we’ve had hawks nesting in a tree up the street by the neighborhood park for the past couple of years; right next to the kiddie playground. This kind of weirds me out. I grew up in a rural-ish area of Wisconsin, and hawks were rare, solitary, creepy birds that you didn’t see often; and it made you kind of move along fast whenever you did. Now, I see them roosting along the expressways around Ikea. Which I guess demonstrates that they are adaptable creatures.

Anyway, this one seemed happily engaged in tearing apart its prey on the garage roof, so I thought I’d take a closer look. I grabbed my binoculars.

The hawk was completely focused, intent upon tearing the heart out of another bird. And the poor gentle thing just laid there, its breast exposed to the sky, and the beak of that hawk.

I’m not a birder, so I don’t specifically know what kind of hawk this was. It had remarkably bright orange fluffy legs. I looked online, and the closest thing I could find in pictures is a savanna hawk. But those are found in South America. That could mean hawks are even more adaptable than I thought, but more probably, it meant that I was looking at a cooper’s hawk. Cooper's hawks don't always have orange legs, but they are common in North America.

Those legs caught my attention. They were so strong and straight and firm, and swathed in those gentle downy orange feathers. And then there was his gesture; BAM! He’d bring his head down like a punch on the breast of the other bird. It seemed odd that he was preying on another adult bird. Call me naive, I don't mind, but I hadn’t realized that birds eat their own kind.

His head punched down again and again, slamming into the other bird’s breast, and then coming up equally fast to make a quick sly glance around, taking in the surroundings. With each glance, he seemed satisfied that it was safe to slam his beak into the other bird's breast again. I didn't see any bits of flesh or anything carried out in his beak, though each time his head came up he gave a quick little flick to the side, and a fluff of grey down puffed into the air.

The slamming and the flicking were relentless, and it was hard to tell if the dove was alive, or if it was just the force of the attack that make its body seem to flinch and twitch. It lay there, breast exposed, beak to the sky, in total and complete submission to the violence playing upon its body. Almost serene.

As I’m watching it, I’m thinking there’s a metaphor in here somewhere… hawks and doves, birds preying on birds, a gentle weekday morning jarred by violence. Each of those is appropriate. Or, maybe it’s just a completely rare and amazing life moment – to be watching nature red in tooth and claw, literally, and safely from the comfort of my kitchen with my binoculars and my coffee.

Eventually, the hawk, apparently dissatisfied by one of his surveying glances, grabs his catch, lifts his wings and is gone. A flurry of grey feathers raises and swirls around his exit, drifting to the alley floor. Later, my dog and I pass by, and he takes a quick, curious sniff at them before moving on his way; all that drama quieted and inconsequential in the continuing rhythm of the day.


Thanks for the photo:  Rick Leinen at NW Bird Blog


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