Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Hawk swoops down to catch a 'meal'

STACEY COLE March 08. 2013 10:57PM

One of our Londonderry readers recounted an interesting red squirrel experience as follows: "After reading your recent column re: red squirrels, I had to laugh because we have had a red squirrel in our back yard for about 3-4 years that disappeared about 2 years ago. We called him/her 'Little Dickens' as it would sit and look in the kitchen window squawking until we put out some peanuts or similar food.

"This fall another one (?) showed up acting the same way. I really enjoyed watching it at the bird feeder hangers. I only have a couple of small trees with branches low enough to hang feeders from as most are real tall Ponderosa pines.

"My story came last week while looking out the back window and seeing 'Dickens II,' and some little reddish birds at the feeders. I watched them and before I realized what happened something swept by the squirrel and landed on the ground, wings spread. I ran and opened the back door yelling: 'No! No! Leave him alone!' The bird looked up at me from about 30 feet away. Then I realized that it was a Red-tailed Hawk starring back at me. The hawk adjusted its grip and flew off the same way it came. I was so upset. I had never seen a hawk here before except in the sky over a field."

It can be upsetting to see a hawk catch a meal. We do so much enjoy the smaller creatures that accept our hospitality by frequently visiting our feeders. And we certainly do not wish to set up a "free lunch" for predators. Even so, we recognize that those hawks we so enjoy watching as they soar high within our skies, require a frequent meal. Like many probabilities in life, we occasionally find ourselves witnessing both the unpleasant and the pleasant.

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One of our longtime Henniker reader-friends recently wrote: "We are having such fun with a Red-bellied Woodpecker who we call 'Charlie.' About three years ago we saw our first red-bellied in our yard and he loved suet.

"Last year for about two weeks in March we heard a call that sounded like a gray tree frog. It took awhile to track it down, but it was Charlie. Now, he is devouring all our suet. We are trying to see if there is more than one red-bellied as it is hard to tell a male from a female. According to Sibley's, the only thing I can see that is different between the sexes is the white on the male's tail feathers."

In checking my copy of "Sibley's Guide to Birds," published by the National Audubon Society, I found our reader-friend to be correct. However, in the latest "Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America," published by Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, I found the following: "Red covers both crown and nape in male, only nape in female."

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A New Ipswich reader wrote on Jan. 31, as follows: "I bought several trees and received two small trees with the order. They are planted on the north side of my garage about twenty feet apart in a fairly open area. They started growing well and they looked more like a bush than a tree. They are about eight feet tall now. A few years ago I noticed that at the beginning of December, one of the bushes was full of pussy willows and it stayed that way until March. The other one didn't bloom until March. Last year the first one was 2/3 full of pussy willows from the beginning of December through March. This year, in the beginning of December there were only four or five pussy willows on various twigs. They are still in bloom now. They have brown capsules the size of my thumb. Also the bush that blooms in the winter is growing faster than the other one. I'd appreciate any information you could give me about this."

My guess is that you purchased two varieties of shrub-type willows. Generally speaking, of the eighteen varieties of the so-called "lowland shrub willows," many are closely similar, and also are hard to identify. Basically, these willows flower in early spring and produce both male and female catkins on separate plants. This information may help explain the difference our reader noted about his two shrubs.

According to "Trees and Shrubs of Northern New England" written by Frederic L. Steele and Albion R. Hodgdon, and published by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests: "The pussies of the Pussy Willow are the developing buds of the flowering catkins. Willows are easily propagated from cuttings by placing them in soil where they take root."

For further information, our readers should contact the UNH Cooperative Extension Agent or County Forester at their Cheshire County Extension Office in Keene,352-4550.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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