Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A little evening drama

Mid-summer on the mountain is usually a quiet time, but quiet doesn’t mean absolutely nothing happens. Last evening, I heard an odd bird call, a loud one. The loudness of the call told me the bird in question was large, though I’d never heard this particular sound before. By large, I knew that meant this bird was either a hawk or an owl. The weirdness of the call told me the bird was almost certainly a juvenile. I suspected the bird was being harassed or scolded by smaller birds.

Juvenile birds make weird noises that often bear little resemblance to how they sound when they are adults. I’ve heard a Red-tailed Hawk with an adult voice trying to make juvenile food calls near a parent bird—and boy, does that sound ridiculous. I’ve heard owls make all kinds noises they aren’t supposed to. Being able to identify a species by its "normal" call doesn’t mean you’ll know every call that bird can make.

At one point I saw the silhouette of this bird as it moved from where it was to a spot just behind the cabin. The silhouette confirmed the size of the bird but it was too quick and too shielded by leaves to tell me much more than that.

So I went out onto my back deck, which is raised 6-7 feet off the ground and gives me a better view into the forest. After much searching I saw a bit of motion and then I saw it—a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. The bird was now sitting on an upper limb of an oak tree, settling its ruffled feathers. My girls, the chickens, were eyeing it suspiciously, but the hawk didn’t seem to be paying any attention to them. It preened a bit and rearranged its feathers with some emphasis, all confirming that it was likely being harassed and chased from some smaller bird’s territory. It had that look of being put out.

It sat there for a while. I watched it as the darkness deepened. The chickens went back to scratching on the ground. The forest was already dark but light still remained in the western sky by the time the bird lifted its wings and flew deeper into the forest again.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Hey, a really great example of woods-wise intuition and quick detective work to confirm your suspicions.

Juvenile birds are simply impossible to recognize by call, because they are all over the place in their voice—kind of like teenage males going through puberty. You figured it down to a couple of possibilities right away; I doubt anyone could have done better. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Good job! .

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

The last time we were at Hasty Brook I spent over an hour scanning the woods, trying to find the source of a very baby-like cry (human baby!). I finally spotted a pair of juvenile crows making the sound. The sound actually gave me the shivers.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: I've been fooled many times over the years by truly weird sounds that don't seem to match anything. Sometimes I couldn't even tell if it was mammal or avian. Young raccoons make some bizarre sounds, too. Basically, if it doesn't sound like anything you've ever heard before, it's a juvenile something--and not some unknown woods monster.

Carolyn H.

Carolyn H said...

Lynne: Oh, right you are. Crows are another one. They can really sound like babies. Definitely not very crow-ish.

Carolyn H.

Aly Beth said...

There is something so calming about that water in the middle. Love it!