Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scenes From a Deck

The deck in my backyard is mourning dove central for this neighborhood. It is not unusual to see a dozen or more of the birds congregated below the feeder on my deck, in the a tree near the feeder, or on the arbor. I suspect that the elements of my deck-food, cover, and abundant sunlight-are what attract them, and I really don't mind as long as cardinals and other song birds continue to visit. In fact, my deck has become something of a wildlife utopia. Even when my cat is out there, she minds her business as long as other animals mind theirs (chipmunks excepted-she hates those little bastards).

Well, as is nature's way, utopia was disturbed recently. Despite our relatively close proximity to the country, we've seen next to no birds of prey during our time here. So as I watched a dozen or so mourning doves out my deck doors, it came as a great surprise to see a hawk of some sort flash into my field of view. It took every bird back there by surprise. It plucked a mourning dove off the top of the arbor and as quickly as it came, it was gone, scattering the rest of the birds with it. Since that little bird nook has been so tranquil over the years, I was stunned watching it. What was particularly fascinating to me was how much that hawk took the rest of the birds by surprise. The bird sanctuary is hemmed in by a fence on two sides, the arbor on a the third, with a tree in the middle, so the hawk had to dodge some obstacles to pick up its lunch, and still it had its pick of sedentary birds.

That area was silent for much of the rest of the afternoon. I was curious to see how long the 'regulars' would stay away. Most did not come back for the rest of the day, but five mourning doves did return late in the afternoon and it was kind of an amazing sight. One dove returned before the rest, and it took up the place on the arbor where the other had been snatched up early in the day. A little while later, four additional doves returned, and they did something I've never seen them do before. Typically, their attention is focused inward on the bird feeder and the seed on the ground. These four birds, however, took up positions on my fence, looking outward. Two sat on each fence, and they were equally spaced. They looked like four little sentries. All five remained in those positions until dusk, at which time they grabbed a little bite to eat and took off for the night. Outside of the one hour last year where my tree saw a cardinal convention (there were so many I thought they were choosing a pope), it was the most interesting hour of animal watching I've had on my deck.

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