Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Several days ago we posted a story about a weasel in England that jumped a woodpecker, and soon found itself airborne aboard the bird’s back.
Weasels are very interesting animals. Almost every Google discovery uses the word vicious to describe them. There is another attack story from England, this time a weasel attacking a squirrel. Rabbits and pigeons also are prey. Weasels think big.
We have or had a weasel living here, seen in our yard last summer, but unfortunately it has not made a dent in the squirrel population.
A Wisconsin web site lists weasels with badgers and wolverines when it comes top contenders for North America’s toughest mammal predators. A couple of web sites list weasel as the smallest carnivore in North America. Not true. The short-tailed shrew has that honor. It is smaller than most mice, with a metabolism running full-tilt all of the time. The heart rate of a shrew at rest has been recorded at 750 beats per minute. It must eat prey equal to its own weight every day.
Some years ago, in a rented garage, I had a rat problem. I set out a large wooden snap trap. It caught a mouse. I ignored it on first sight, coming back later to reset the trap. It was nowhere to be seen. I also had short-tailed shrews (sort of like a zoo, that garage). I found the trap under a cupboard, nothing remaining of the mouse but a shred of skin. I’m certain that a shrew, tiny little guy with that huge appetite, dragged the trap into that dark crevice to eat in private. The trap had to weigh 50 or 60 times as much as that tiny shrew, maybe more. I’ll bet a shrew could eat a weasel in the right circumstances (maybe after it fell from a flying woodpecker).
Short-tailed shrews can be identified by the darkened tips of their front teeth. This shrew species also is one of the world’s few poisonous mammals, injecting prey when its bites.
That woodpecker was lucky its attacker was only a weasel.
Sunday last five Bald Eagles circled above me as I visited a nearby orchard. The eagles cut over-lapping circles, often coming close to each other, but seeming to pay no attention to each other. The birds were just moving through, perhaps headed for Lake Minnetonka shoreline where eagles are often seen in the fall, waiting for opportunity to snag a coot or duck. One place to check for eagles on the lakeshore is along County Road 15 as it heads west from Wayzata. The road will sweep to the left soon after leaving town. Two marinas are there, and that stretch of shoreline often holds eagles in the tall trees that line the shore.
Commmon Grackles, uncommon most of the year in our yard, thank goodness, are far too common on some early fall days. I remove feeder trays to reduce the amount of seed they eat, but the birds work hard to grip anything that gives them seed access, often sparring for position. Last week, as this acrobat and its companions raided us, I simply let the feeders go empty. We'll fill them today, with crossed fingers. Grackles are beautiful birds, very photogenic, all angles and iridescence, one of my favorites. Some days, actually, the seed is worth the photos. The bird in the second photo, being confronted (not fed!), is a juvenile, as shown by its red eyes.
Yes, hawks are threatening, and crows probably are nesting near the field where I watched this encounter Saturday, but I think crows need more to do. They harassed this Red-tailed Hawk for several minutes, three of them, following it for maybe a quarter mile before giving up. Later, nearby in a woods, I watched crows, 10 or a dozen of them, drive a Great Horned Owl from the woods, and five minutes later come back to find another, driving it away as well. A pair of owls had been tending a nest in those woods. I was there to check on that. The nest lacked an adult bird. I assume the pair that drew the crows' attention had given up on the nesting effort. I hope they remain loyal to the woods.
From the ground it can look like hawks ignores their harassers, usually continuing to circle in its quiet glide instead of fleeing as owls will do. You can see from these photos that the hawk was very aware. In the third photo the hawk is watching another of its attackers.
The Sandhill Crane pair being seen west of our home in Orono was dancing yesterday. I watched them for a couple of hours, and got to see two brief dancing bouts. A neighbor told me they nested at this location last year, producing one colt. It disappeared after a week, probable coyote victim. I've heard of nesting in other years, but never have seen the birds after early spring. I intend to be more observant.
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