A Flicker and Two Hawks

My husband and I walk the dogs every morning, three quarters of a mile up the hill, then loop around and come back. It’s kept the covid pounds off, mostly.

It also provides the occasional benefit of letting us seeing some wildlife.

As we started up the hill earlier this week, I saw a funny knob on a tree just a few feet back from the sidewalk. I focused on it and realized it was a female red-shafted flicker, sticking her head out of a hole she’d pecked into a chokecherry tree.

The tree is just a few feet back from the sidewalk, and the hole is right at eye level. We are worried that there will be too much traffic for her to feel comfortable enough to raise a family. But there isn’t much we can do about her choice of nest sites except swing wide as we pass it.

As we worked our way around the neighborhood, we heard the loud, almost honking cry of a Cooper’s hawk. Contrary to what we’ve been trained by movies to expect, the only hawks that make the classic screaming sound are Red-taileds and Swainson’s. But we recognized the honking call because there have been Coopers nesting in this area for over a decade, (Coopers Hawk Misses¬†Dinner) although I doubt the actual birds are the same. Regardless, we spotted the bird as he flew to his mate sitting on the nest.

Female Cooper’s hawk sitting on her nest.

At least we won’t have to work very hard to avoid her nest. But we will keep an eye on it, too, and see if any chicks hatch.

Speaking of screaming hawks, later that same day, I heard a hawk screaming as it landed in a neighbor’s yard. I grabbed my trusty camera and tripod and got a couple of shots.

By the time I got in position, this Swainson’s hawk was still preening and fluffing its feathers. Something really upset it. I suspect it got too close to a crows nest someplace, and they mobbed it.

Swainson’s are the same size as Red-taileds, and look somewhat similar. But they have longer wings; if you look closely, you can see that its wings extend beyond its tail as it sits on the branch. This bird is what is called a “pale morph.” You can’t see it here but its wings are white underneath, and it has a white chest. You can just make out some banding on its tail, but it is fairly light, too. But it does have the signature “chocolate bib” that all Swainson’s have.

I don’t know if it is nesting nearby. We had a Swainson’s come through the neighborhood last year too. (Hawk Conflict) I don’t think it was the same bird, but it might have been. It was as pale as this one. We’ll keep an eye out for it, anyway, and see if we can find out if it is nesting nearby.

Spring is Coming — Promise

It has been a long cold hard winter along the Front Range of Colorado. We have gotten enough snow in February to wipe out the incipient drought we were headed into, which is a good thing. But it came at the cost of a snowstorm every couple of days. That was hard.

We’re not out of winter yet — March and April are typically our snowiest months in Colorado.

But as the dogs and I went for our morning walk, we also found the first signs that spring is on the way.

Male Northern Flicker — red-shafted variety. Only males have the red stripe on the jaw.

As we walked, we heard the “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh” call of a male Northern Flicker trying out his mating call.

Male Spotted Towhee looking for seeds in the snow.

Further on, we found a Spotted Towhee by his “cha-cha-chaaa” call. Like the flicker, his calls right now are just warm-ups. He quickly dropped down to the snow to hunt for seeds.

Hearing these guys practice their mating calls cheered me up. And as we walked home through the cold, the sun broke through the clouds, promising a sunny day.

Spring Knocking at the Door

They may be having bomb cyclones in the East.winter storm riley. They may be getting feet of snow in the West. Winter Storm Quinn Pounding the West But in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, for better or for worse, Spring is knocking at the door.

How do I know that Spring is on it’s way? As I walked the dogs this morning, the air smelled, well, spring-y — wet and peaty.

The birds are beginning to sing. I heard the “wicka wicka wicka” of northern flickers.

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And the “chi chi chi chaaa” of spotted sided towhees.Spotted towhee in Gambel oak-07_edited-1.jpg

Not to seem ungrateful, but we could use a little helping of the storms to either side of us.

Sharp-shinned hawk misses flicker for lunch

The gregarious band of little bushtits took off in a burst of feathers and cheeping alarm calls.

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I looked up just in time to see a Northern flicker shoot out of the top of a tree, with a sharp-shinned hawk in hot pursuit. Luckily for the flicker, the hawk had made its move too soon, and given the flicker a head start the predator couldn’t overcome.

Northern flickers spend all year in the wooded areas of the Front Range of Colorado. They are in the woodpecker family, but they spend as much time on the ground as they do in trees, stabbing their big sharp beaks into the soil in search of insects.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sharp-shinned hawks are woodland predators. They, too, live year-round in Colorado woodlands, and in fact they cover most of North America.¬† Most of their diet comes from birds that they surprise and chase through the trees — exactly what I saw today, except that the flicker got away.notice the long notched tail and dark cap on head