Urban predators

Like a number of city dwellers, I put out bird feeders for the winter.

My west side daily visitors include sparrows, finches, chickadees, juncos, three Downy woodpeckers, and grackles. Every so often I am blessed by the  cardinal pair who travel with a cedar waxwing (harem?). I use the “urban bird” seed mix from Gilligallou on Preston Street.

I usually pick up some Christmas trees from the street on the first garbage day in the new year, and plop them in the backyard for wind shelter for the birds. Then in late April I bless the green bin day with a collection of very dead very needle-dropping trees. This year I only snagged one retired Christmas tree.

Birds flock together for safety. And they “exclude” or shun defective birds. Being human, this cranks up my sympathy: Pathetic Fallacy.

So every day I watch this one sparrow — who looks fine to me — who never leaves my yard. He does not fly away when the flock moves on the next feeding station. The other birds do not share the feeders with it. When pecking on the ground, they drive it away.

At night he lives in the dried up clematis vine trellis. As more brown leaves blew away, he moved to the clematis by my deck, and then I noticed he was taking shelter under the wooden steps to my deck, or under the bench outside my door. Both these spots are out of the wind and catch the sun. I upped my watch for the cats whose owners shelter them from the weather, give them food and vitamins, then send them out to attack the real wildlife, claiming it is “natural”. So I am a natural harasser of hunting cats.

Last Monday, Jan 22,  I glanced outside, my eye caught by an unusual motion. A new bird, large, flying low to the ground, in tight circles, around the retired Christmas tree. With mounting excitement, I realized it was a predator, darting in and out of the Christmas tree. The sparrow flew out one side and circled around the other side and flew back in. The predator followed, tail feathers so widely spread they were like a fan. Moments later the sparrow made a break for it, flying due east out of the yard. The predator right on his tail.

Since then, I have not seen my little sparrow.

I did not get a picture of my visiting bird. By time I found my cell phone (camera), and stabbed at it three times to open it (“try again” instructs Mr Samsung,  as if my fingerprint will get better) and then focused on the back yard (not that cell phones zoom in at all well), the whole event was over.

I heard on the radio about a Merlin Hawk spotted downtown on Queen Street. It seems to be keeping busy. I googled the name, and recognized the predator visitor right away by his distinctive tail feathers:

Audobon photo of Merlin, from Google.


This is not the first predator seen on the west side. Here’s a story from our archives:   https://www.westsideaction.ca/gourmet-take-out/

and here is a longer story also involving predators on the west side: https://www.westsideaction.ca/paying-attention-to-benjaminfranklin/

And I will never forget the Snowy(?) Owl swooping along the Trillium Line tracks at 9ish one autumn evening in 2016.

There’s life, and death, on the west side if you keep your eyes open.


11 thoughts on “Urban predators

  1. “A group of waxwings are collectively known as an “ear-full” and a “museum” of waxwings.” ~iBird Pro

  2. thx for the post. sorry for your loss. such is the circle of life, they tell us. we live in a second floor condo along the 0-Train in little italy and have successfully helped raise 4 cardinals over the past 2 summers. we now have 7 feeding this winter. it is truly entertaining to see them jockey for position when feeding. 2 weeks ago we had a cooper’s hawk visit – as it did last year. this time instead of perching on our neighbouring tree, he sat on the balcony railing with much aplomb. fortunately we were spared any carnage …

  3. We’ve had hawks in our little yard on Bell North almost every year. We have a busy feeder under the big catalpa tree behind our house. Sadly they leave a heap of shredded feathers in the wake of their visits, usually a starling and occasionally a sparrow are on the menu. Everything has got to eat right? Thanks for this post.

  4. A fine account of how birds do in our backyards. Thanks. A hawk ate a cardinal in our yard a few years ago in Wellington west. I watched the feathery feast, quite fascinated but cleaned up later, not to be reminded of her fate. Glad for the hawk though.

  5. For years we had a “murder” of about 8 crows that sat on the hydro line right outside our kitchen window looking onto Albert St. One bird had a huge swath of white marking it’s right wing. Then Albert St. Became the Transitway and the crows disappeared. Sad to lose them.

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