, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 18, 2014

Finding food challenges winter birds


As I mentioned, there was a Cooper’s hawk perched across the street from the store. From its diminutive size, I thought, at first, that it was a sharp-shinned hawk. Once I got a scope on it I was able to study more detail. Its head was more square and its eyes more forward than a sharp-shinned should be. It was perched back to me, so I couldn’t judge the size of the legs. Its tail didn’t appear rounded, but it was long. I concluded that it was a male Cooper’s hawk, which can be smaller than a female sharp-shinned.

Two birding friends called the store on Thursday to report a northern shrike near the North Pool Overlook on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island. Though not a raptor, a shrike also dines on small birds. The birders had been to the nearby Maintenance area a few minutes earlier and found the remains of a snow bunting — most likely lunch for the shrike. (Doug Chickering had seen the shrike there earlier in the morning.)

Also, a customer told me that she walked the beach on the refuge that same morning and came across a snowy owl perched next to the dunes. She thought that the owl was preening, as white feathers were flying, but she discovered that it was eating a snow bunting! That is hardly even an appetizer for the owl! Lemmings, voles and other small mammals are their main diet, but snowy owls will also take ducks, and even herons!

Another customer told me about watching an eagle swoop down to take a duck. When you see a lot of ducks in the air at one time, look around for an eagle. They tend to put up every bird in sight in fear of attack. Luckily for the ducks, there is enough open water that the bald eagles can also find plenty of fish.

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