A birding buddy and I witnessed a real avian donnybrook the other day. We emerged from the woods next to a marsh and heard Blue Jays making a racket. Then we spotted a commotion in a big dead tree about 100 meters away. At first glance it appeared to be a raptor chasing another bird. But it turned out to be two Sharp-shinned Hawks, two Pileated Woodpeckers, two Northern Flickers and some number of Blue Jays in a continuous battle over who could use the tree.
Some background. Sharp-shinned Hawks are small accipiters, about the size of a Blue Jay or Robin. Accipiters are fast, agile flyers that hunt small birds. The Blue Jays harass and mob them whenever they can. This accounts for part of the kerfuffle. We think the Flickers just joined in once the Jays got going. As with most birds, they just don’t like having these hawks hanging around. The Pileated Woodpeckers are about 50% larger than a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They may not fear the hawks but they did not appreciate being bothered by them. The two hawks were juveniles and may have been new to this sort of thing. They chased, and were chased, in and out of the tree for quite some time. They never caught anything and expended a lot of energy for no return.
Here is some of the action. No birds were killed or injured in the filming of this post!
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawks:
Two Northern Flickers investigated the situation.
A Pileated Woodpecker was hanging out on the tree that came to be the center of the dispute.
“This tree ain’t big enough for both us.” Cue the spaghetti western music as the two “gun slingers” eye each other.
This photo gives some sense of the relative sizes of the opponents.
The hawk makes his move….
The first round went to the hawk, who chased the woodpecker out of the marsh and across some power lines to the tree line on the other side.
But the woodpecker was not to be bullied. She promptly returned and took up residence again.
The Blue Jays were mostly noisy spectators up to this point. They now got into the action. Maybe this one was emboldened by the return of the woodpecker.
The hawk makes a quick dive at the Blue Jay.
The Blue Jay can’t resist coming back and screaming at the hawk, who doesn’t appear to be amused.
This draws another attack.
The antagonists seemed to tire of the back and forth by this time. The hawks moved on to another part of the marsh and left the tree to the woodpeckers and jays.