A not-so-sneaky attack

  • This young Cooper's hawk was either really hungry or really bored. For the Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • This photo shows the turkey fluffing up and standing his ground. Seconds later the hawk made a run at him. For the Recorder/Bill Danielson

Published: 1/13/2020 7:00:59 AM
Modified: 1/13/2020 7:00:13 AM

Last week, I got derailed from my scheduled column topic by a pair of rabbits that showed up at my feeders in broad daylight. This was so unusual and fun to watch that I simply had to put other plans on hold so I could share the story with you. I was already planning on sharing something quite odd and ridiculous, but the rabbits were just too darn cute to ignore.

This week, I have another story about interactions between two animals at my feeders, except that this time the animals are birds. The thing that makes this particular set of observations peculiar is the fact that neither of these birds is a species that one traditionally associates with a bird feeder. They weren’t chickadees, cardinals, blue jays or any of the other “normal” species one might expect to see.

This time there was a wild turkey and a Cooper’s hawk.

The turkey was seen after the big snowstorm of Dec. 2, 2019. He was first detected by tracks only, but eventually, the snow began to diminish and the activity of walking around became easier by the day. Since turkeys are daytime birds, it was not something that could be observed unless you were at home — this is where my Christmas vacation came in.

When I went outside to replenish the seed supply, I found myself accidentally frightening the turkey. At one point, the turkey startled me by taking flight in a thunderous burst of wings when I wasn’t expecting it. Each time I chased off the turkey, I was saddened because I thought it would be wonderful to have a turkey as a regular visitor. Well, the gods must have heard my secret wish and one day, while I was sitting at my kitchen window, they delivered.

Sipping coffee and taking notes on arrival times, I was writing in my journal when I caught sight of a movement outside. I thought it was probably a squirrel, but when I looked up I was flabbergasted to behold a turkey on my deck. He had walked up the stairs, turned the corner and commenced to tuck in for a good breakfast. He was 8 feet away. My camera was ready to go and the pictures started piling up.

Prior to the arrival of the turkey, I had noticed a dearth of smaller birds at the feeders. This usually means there is a hawk around and it didn’t take me long to locate an immature Cooper’s hawk that was terrorizing the neighborhood. A busy feeder that attracts a lot of small birds is a tempting hunting situation for a hawk, so you can’t really blame one for hanging around.

The turkey eventually filled up on sunflower seeds and then, to my great amusement, it decided to exit the deck by walking down the stairs to the ground below. I got up and ran down to my basement where I hoped to continue taking photos through the large windows there. By the time I arrived, he was already on his way past the house and toward the stand of pine trees on the western edge of my yard. I took photos and it was then that I saw the turkey do something odd.

For no apparent reason, the turkey stopped walking, fluffed up its feathers and fanned out its tail. It almost looked like a breeding display, but its tail was parallel to the ground and there were no other turkeys around. I lowered my camera to adjust my angle and at that moment I saw a ridiculous sight. The young Cooper’s hawk came flying in from the east about three feet off the ground as it made an attack run on the turkey. What?

Apparently, the turkey saw the hawk coming and decided to stand his ground. After all, the hawk had no realistic chance of tackling a turkey, so the turkey was probably more annoyed than fearful. The hawk closed in, the turkey gave a flap of its huge wings and the “attack” was over. Perhaps the hawk was really hungry and filled with the unreasonable optimism of youth. Or, perhaps it was testing the limits of its abilities or it was simply finding entertainment in being a pest. I’ve seen similar “games” being played by sharp-shinned hawks and crows, so I suppose anything is possible.

If not for that split-second readjustment of my camera, I might have a photo of the actual interaction, but seeing it without the camera actually helped me see more of the event and understand it better. So, we’ll have to make do with individual photos of the pugilists. I do have a favor to ask, though. Susan and I were trying to come up with a name for the turkey and the choices we settled on were Basil, Syngen or Larry. Please send in your vote so we can properly enter this turkey into the guest book.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 22 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics. Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.




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