The woods are quieter this time of year - partially because many birds have moved south. But I have another theory. Birds of prey are migrating this time of year, too. Hawks, eagles and falcons prefer the day. Most song birds migrate at night. That is probably not by accident. Darkness allows songbirds to avoid predators. And avoiding predators may be a reason birds sing less in the fall, especially since Accipiters are on the prowl.
Accipiters are hawks that prefer to eat other birds. They are built for hunting in the forest. They have short, wide wings and long tails which makes it easy to dart in and around tree branches like fighter jets. There are three Accipiters that nest in our area.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest Accipiter. These are a little larger than a robin. They feed almost exclusively on small birds. Cooper’s Hawks (Photo by H. Gilbert Miller) are a crow-sized version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. These two can be difficult to tell apart without a little study. Both have brown to slate colored uppers. Their throat and breast are covered in rusty bars. Their tails have black bars. Cooper’s Hawks are larger and, as a result go, after larger birds. Have you ever had birds disappear from your feeders for a few days? It could be an Accipiter lurking nearby.
The third Accipiter is the Northern Goshawk. This is a big hawk that lives here year-round. It preys on woodpeckers, crows and grouse. It also takes squirrels and rabbits. Goshawks are secretive and prefer the deep forest. However, last year my wife and I were sitting on our deck late one afternoon when a large bird flew by our faces so close, we felt the pressure from its wings. It was a Goshawk. The birds on our feeders scattered. A dove was the target. It crashed into low blueberry bushes barely escaping. The Goshawk pulled up like a fighter jet and banked over the yard looking for another target. All was silent. With a fierce glance our way, it flew slowly back into the forest. It all happened in a matter of seconds. Our hearts were pounding. If we were startled, I can’t imagine what that dove felt like.
So, the next time you visit Valentine Farm Conservation Center, consider that many of our songbird friends are there, but they are moving silently because they know what’s lurking – Accipiters!
James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to email@example.com.