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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Birds of Prey

Air Date: Week of October 9, 2009

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(Photo © Salt Marsh Diary)

A sharp-shin hawk goes after some bluejays and is given a run for its money. Salt Marsh Diary writer Mark Lender observed the action.

Transcript

YOUNG: No animal is more serious than a hawk on the hunt. But sometimes, as writer Mark Seth Lender observes, birds of prey become birds that play - whether they want to, or not.

LENDER: The Birds of Prey have begun their passage. Bottled up by bad weather they wait, and then upon the freshened air, a hurricane of hawks roars through. Goshawk and Broadwing, Rough-leg and Redtail, all are here. So are the falcons, Merlin with that Prussian dueling scar across his eye and thousand-yard stare. Kestrel, hovering above the marshland all bright feathers, formidable beyond her size.


(Photo © Salt Marsh Diary)

A Peregrine cutting across the shallowing sun, almost transparent in the penetrating light of late afternoon. While all the small that walk, that fly, that crawl, that climb quake with dread. Predators prey, prey flees. This morning we had a Sharp-shin. He too must feed and the songbirds fear this little hawk with reason. He may not succeed every time but he tries, sitting in plain sight on a naked branch while everyone hides. Except the Jays.


(Photo © Salt Marsh Diary)

One by one by one, Bluejays alight on the fork of the very same tree. A lethal error in judgment seems to lead them close, closer. Too close. Blasting from his perch the Sharpy strikes, the spurs of his talons scalpel-sharp, his feet spread like fangs. Twisting, he turns and dives head first, half upside down, dogging the nearest Jay, a tail feather’s width behind. The Bluejay, screaming blood and murder, escapes - just barely – and comes right back for more. And more.


(Photo © Salt Marsh Diary)

Each time that blinding terror, each time the narrow escape, each Jay taking his turn as if they want to be eaten. Suicide, by hawk! And then I understood: The Bluejays are playing a game. When we ride the Cyclone careening toward the bottom at an angle sure to jump those roller-coasting tracks - We scream! We love it. We ride that ride again. This is how the Bluejays play it. The hawk does not but then, not his turf, not his rules. One guess who tired first? Prey plays. Predators gnash their teeth. Smart money’s on the Game.

YOUNG: Mark Seth Lender writes the column, “Salt Marsh Diary.” To see photographs and find out more, go to our website LOE dot ORG.

 

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