NaturePhotographyScience & Nature

How I Became the Leader of a Multi-Level Bird Feeding Scheme

A year ago I moved into a townhouse in Chicago with a tiny front yard. I put up a bird feeder almost immediately after moving in, even though in all honesty, my hopes of getting interesting birds to come visit were low. I’m living in the middle of a large, urban city. The wildlife we are most known for consists mostly of pigeons and rats. Soon though, to my surprise, my feeder was being visited by all sorts of interesting bird species, many of which I didn’t even realize we had living in the city. Although I love when the occasional chickadee or cardinal visits, most of the time the feeder and my front yard is being taken over by a swarm of house sparrows, an invasive species. There are often 50-100 sparrows in my yard at any given time, fighting for a spot at the feeder. That’s why I was so confused a couple weeks ago when the sparrows had almost entirely abandoned my bird feeder for a couple days in a row. The mystery was explained one morning when I looked out the window to see a hawk sitting on the tree in my yard.

photo of a hawk hanging out in a tree

The hawk had turned my yard bird party into a scene of sparrow terror. Rather than spending their time fighting at the feeder, the sparrows have taken to hiding under parked cars or in nearby bushes. A group of them will eventually make their way to the feeder, eat at much as they can for a couple minutes, then fly back to safety. I knew the hawk was still around because occasionally I would come home to the scene of a bird murder, but it is so well camouflaged in the snow-covered trees that I rarely set eyes on it.

photo of the top of a gate with blood and feathers stuck in snow
A bloody and grisly bird murder scene
photo of a tree with a camouflaged hawk in it that is difficult to see
Can you spot the hawk in this photo?

Ever since I first discovered the hawk, all I wanted was to take photos of it, but often when I see it I don’t have my camera ready and it doesn’t tend to stay in the same spot for long. At one point I spotted it sitting on a gate across the street. I was happy it finally decided to sit still for some photos, but almost as if it were mocking me, it decided the perfect spot to pose was right in front of some garbage cans. It wasn’t exactly picturesque.

photo of a Hawk sitting in front of trash bins

Photo of a hawk flying in front of trash bins

Of course, nature photography is all about patience. Chicago had a huge snow storm this week, which I spent working from home in a desk facing my front yard. I kept my camera right next to me in case the hawk decided to visit. Eventually my patience paid off. The hawk perched on my gate and stayed there long enough for me to get a bunch of photos.

Photo of a hawk sitting on a gate in the snow

close-up photo of a hawk face

Hawks are very difficult birds to identify. Even within one species, hawks can have many geographical color variations. Even so, after a lot of research and talking to some friends who are into bird watching, I believe I’ve identified it as a juvenile cooper’s hawk.

photo of a hawk sitting on a gate fluffing its feathers

I was excitedly telling my fellow Mad Art Labbers about the hawk and Amy mentioned that she had previously made this beautiful illustration of a red-tailed hawk. The illustration is available to buy on a variety of products in Amy’s Red Bubble store, so if you like it and are a fan of hawks like I am, you can show off your hawk fandom with a print or other item.

illustration of a hawk taking off

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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One Comment

  1. Sharpie vs coop is one of my least-favourite birding conundrums, but I’ll second your Cooper’s ID.

    I’m always surprised at the birds I encounter now that I live in the city! My favourite was the flock of wild turkeys strutting along the sidewalk just up the street from my condo (presumably headed for the Timmies drive-thru).

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