Saturday, July 31, 2010

Doves and Hawks

While out in the garden last Saturday, I watched a pair of Mourning Doves build their nest in the limbs of a nearby oak. Turns out our garden is kind of like a Home Depot for doves -- with an endless supply of building materials.

It was a pretty pastoral scene, the cool of early day, birds singing and a pair of doves making their family home. Occasional cooing floated down from the trees. I watched Mr. Dove as he glided down to the ground, loaded up with the biggest twig he could carry, then flew up to a roof and into the oak. The male dove gathers the twigs and the female builds the nest. You can't see it, but the doves' nest is just a few yards from the peak of the roof, hidden in the oak branches.

Doves and particularly doves with twigs in their beaks are symbols of peace and rest. It was a dove who found land and brought Noah the olive twig signifying the end of the flood. When Picasso wanted to symbolize peace, he drew a dove. And, this beautiful July morning it was easy to understand why as I watched the doves go about their business.

So, here we were, the doves and I. Peace and contentment abounded.

But, (cue Jaws theme) a predator was watching.

Doves are a favorite food of the Cooper's Hawk. The hawks soar overhead looking for food, looking for doves.

And they hide in trees, surveying the area for their next victim. Cooper's Hawks like to hunt with sudden dashes from a concealed perch and swoop in low to snare their victim.

Cooper's Hawks have incredible eyesight -- 20/2 or eight times better than excellent human vision. While we could walk right by this dove and not even notice it, the hawk would see the dove clearly from afar.

So, there I was -- watering and happy to watch the dove come and go. The dove was pecking around for twigs not more than fifteen feet away. I can't speak for the dove, but I had no idea of the danger that lurked nearby.

Then it happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, a hawk swooped down from behind me, veering around my right side about waist high. He came so close that I felt a small breeze and an instant chill. Had I lifted my arm, I would have hit the hawk.

As he swooped around in front of me, I recognized the Cooper's Hawk. I watched as the hawk flew low, aiming straight for the dove, talons down.


The harsh reality is that being a dove is high risk. Mortality is high. Six of ten adult doves die each year from predators and other causes. The risk is even higher for young doves. But, the circle of life is in high gear. Doves are prolific breeders, raising up to six broods a year, and are among the more abundant birds.


If caught by a Cooper's Hawk, a dove's fate is not pretty. The hawk's talons are strong and needle sharp. The hawk wraps its talons around its prey and then, in mid-air, kills its prey by repeatedly squeezing it.


I don't know how often a dove can evade a swooping Cooper's Hawk. But that is what happened. Fortunately for the dove, it was standing near an apricot tree and even more fortunate for him, he saw the hawk. As the hawk swooped down toward the ground and stretched out its talons, the smaller bird darted behind the apricot. By the narrowest of margins, the hawk missed and the dove got away.

With one powerful flap of its wings, the hawk rose up and over the fence. As quickly as it had appeared, the hawk was gone.


Mister Earl said...

Wonderful, absorbing story, Michael.

WV: whify. This hawk whiffed!

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks Earl. I can't imagine the hawk whiffs too often. But, it sure did this time. And, after whiffing, that bird was out of sight in a flash.

Petrea said...

Lucky this time.

I love your Home Depot line.

Bellis said...

What a scene to witness. I can't tell you how happy I was that the dove survived - she was, after all, pregnant.

Michael Coppess said...

Saw the whole dove family this morning pecking around under the oak tree. Two adults and two young birds. So far so good. But, now I can't help but look around for the hawk.

David Sneiders said...

Thanks for the exciting vignette of urban valley nature. Reminds me of my boyhood days in NW Pasadena raising Birmingham rollers & homer pigeons. Coopers & red tail hawks always trying to attack my kits & flocks.

Here's the onetime I caught mystery hawk chasing after my roller kit:

Checkout or revisit Nature show that mounted camera's on raptors:

Amazing fauna San Gabriel Valley has!

Cafe Pasadena said...

You take good bird picks. You've become The Birdman of Pasadena.

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks Cafe, Birdman of ... sounds a little confining, if you know what I mean. I prefer your former appellation: Animal Blogger!

David, thanks for the remembrance and links to the Nature program. That video is great. So right -- I am continually amazed at the wildlife we have around here. I didn't start this blog looking to post on wildlife, but that is certainly one of the more interesting directions this has gone.

altadenahiker said...

Yesterday I saw a mockingbird kicking up a ruckus, hopping and yelling from the top of a telephone pole. Then I saw another mockingbird dive bomb and flush out a hawk. The hawk took off like, well, a bat out of hell.

David Sneiders said...

Great observations of local history & wildlife Michael. Now if only Rhambo would leave crossbow at home might be more to enjoy, on wildlife side.

Yes AH mocking birds have such defensiveness,lol. Saturday my neighbor Vern showed me amazing pics of a mocking bird attacked by what looked like a coopers hawk. The hawk was feasting on the catch in a Chinese Elm tree. I was hoping he would place online but he is only a hard copy non-net guy.

Latino Heritage said...

Beautifully written, what a joy to read.
We often have Mourning Doves in our backyard - I love the sound they make as they rise.