January is a busy backyard bird-feeding month here in east Texas. It's wintery enough for birds to receive handouts from us bird lovers in the form of black oil sunflower seeds. For the lucky birds in our backyard, we are spoiling them with a fine mixture of a songbird seed mix including safflower. They do love it - we have a large flock of goldfinches that have taken up residence here at the edge of the woods, and they play very nicely with our year-round population of cardinals, blue jays, house finches and Carolina wrens. The Carolina chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches also welcome their similarly sized new feeder mates with hospitality. The red bellied woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers generously share birdfeeder space with them as well, and our new visiting brown thrasher pecks and claws the ground in and around the azalea bushes and mulched areas along with the goldfinches, white throated sparrows and black-eyed juncos. It has seemed like a birds' paradise - everyone getting along nicely, no bullies upsetting the peaceful coexistence of so many species sharing the space together. Even the squirrels seem to have tapered their frenzied eating - helped in part by the baffles we've installed on a couple of the feeder poles.
Ah, yes...all is well with the world, until reality bears its brutal head in the form of a hawk with sharp talons, an appetite for birds, and an opportunistic mind. At least one Accipiter has brought this peaceful paradise back to the reality of this world - birds are prey to birds of prey, in the form of Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, and they have found their opportunity at our backyard birdfeeder paradise.
These two species of hawks, as I have learned, are somewhat difficult to differentiate in the field. Both inhabit east Texas, both juveniles are similar in appearance, and both have a craving for their own kind, even if smaller than themselves. I have wondered if I should post a sign for my seed eating friends near the feeding poles reading, "Eat at your own risk - cannibalism is sometimes practiced here". Our little birds have learned the drill - when the unwelcome bird-eating guest swoops out of nowhere, they immediately hide in the bushes, or stand dead still within the camouflage of leaf mulch and vegetation. Now it is a battle of wills and patience. Who will move first? Who will give up first?