Sharp-Shinned Hawk

If you have come to find out about ceramics today, I am sorry to disappoint.  Today’s chatter is about some of the visitors to our garden.  One of the reasons that we have remained living in the urban centre of a growing Canadian city is our garden.  Twenty years ago a dozen lilac bushes were planted along the east side of the property at the back.  There is also a peony bush that thrives despite the fact I am told it is over fifty years old.  The wild roses climb about along with a flaming willow inspired by a friend’s in Kelowna, a super tall Brandon cedar, a myriad of thickets and Virginia creeper.  There are literally hundreds of birds every day, a pair of Chickadees and Nuthatches, a lone Downy Woodpecker this time of year, two grey squirrels, a red squirrel, and three rabbits.  And then, there are ‘them’.

‘Them’ refers to the Sharp-Shinned Hawks. These hawks are small ‘accipiters’.  That is they have short round wings and a long tail.  When their tail is folded, it appears to be square or notched, with a narrow pale tip.  When fanned it is slightly rounded in appearance.  Their head is small and rounded (not flat like the Cooper Hawks).  Their neck is short and they can rotate their head almost 360 degrees.  Their breast is rusty-barred and they have an orange eye.  They fly, according to Peterson, in several rapid beats with a short glide.  Petersons also says they are better adapted at hunting in the woodlands than most of the other hawks.  While several other books on Manitoba birds does not indicate it, Peterson says this:  “Habitat:  Breeds in extensive forests; in migration and winter, open woodlands, wood edges, and residential areas.”  Their food is chiefly birds and occasionally small mammals.

My first encounter was on March 29, 2018, when I came face to face with a female at 10 am – in my nightgown no less.  She was perched on one of the sheds that hold the firewood for our wood stove.  She was rapidly plucking something and thinking it was ‘the’ rabbit, I ran out in the snow to confirm and discovered- seriously, much to my relief- that the lunch was one of the songbirds.  [I need to add here that we do not feed the other animals so they will be a hawk buffet].  She was stunningly gorgeous and quite large.  We stared at one another for about sixty seconds.  I would like to think that day that our chat might keep her away from the rabbits and realising that hawks are endangered, I recognised that she also had to eat and feed offspring.  She and her mate came again in April.  The male is much smaller (about 22 cm tall) than the female (at least  35-45 cm tall) and his hunting skills weren’t very sophisticated last year.  If this is the same one, he has much improved.

Today, he was successful and then just sat, quite content on the edge of the firewood holder.  This appears to be his ‘plucking post’.  The hawks catch their prey with their long legs and sharp talons.  Normally, he would have left after he finished eating but, today, he was there – frozen still – for about forty-five minutes.  The songbirds in the lilacs and the grey squirrel on the suet did not move.  At the end of almost an hour, they even got a little squirmy.  Some were hiding in the Brandon Cedar.  Then the hawk flew away only to return to the thicket some five minutes later.  The photo was taken with my iPhone.  My presence, less than two metres from him, was not a bother nor were people walking up and down the back lane and cars.  Then he left again.  We were looking out the window to see if he had returned, talking about how well he was camouflaged, only to be surprised when we looked ‘to our right’ and there, on a 2 x 4 holding a solar panel to the outdoor lights, he was cheekily perched.  Several minutes later he swopped past the lilacs and away.  It was 4;40pm.

Has climate impacted these hawks?  Most of the bird books talk about their migration and the fact that they live in forested areas in the north, not in the City of Winnipeg!

Author: maryannsteggles

My creative life has many facets. I am a Professor of Ceramics and Art History at the School of Art, University of Manitoba. I write for a number of ceramic journals including Studio Potter, Art and Perception, Ceramics Technical, New Ceramics, and Ceramics Monthly. My research focuses on historical and contemporary Canadian woodfiring and, in particular, the marginalization of women. This year I have presented papers on the topic of the marginalization of women within the field of ceramics at the Third European Wood Fire Conference in La Borne, France, and the Creative Women Conference at the University of Guelph. I own Wheel and Throw. Contemporary Ceramic Design where I produce limited edition ceramic bottles. In the spring of 2019, I will be one of the resident artists at Hospitalfield in Abroath, Scotland. Can't wait! I can be reached at maryannsteggles@icloud.com

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