My mom and I were engrossed, extremely engrossed, watching the Winter Olympics during the past few weeks. We’ve been glued to the TV in our small sitting room, afternoons and evenings, to catch all the latest excitement of the world’s incredible athletes.
Squeezed between us has been Chinese rescue, Bridget, who came to America in the summer of 2019 to be my mom’s new doggie companion.
This has been Bridget’s first Winter Olympics, and while she has been cheering on her fellow Chinese, she’s likewise done the same for her adopted countrymen and women. I consider her a bit of an Eileen Gu, who holds dual citizenship with loyalties to both the US and China. (If you hadn’t kept up, since 2019, American-born and raised Gu switched her sports allegiance to China. She gave 2 golds and 1 silver to her Asian team instead of joining in our USA athletes.)
Another kind of athlete, that of Nature, alights
It’s been while watching the Olympics that we’ve had another nerve-racking view of sorts. While sitting on the couch, we’ve had a clear view of the neighborhood birds and squirrels, eating happily on our deck from offerings of cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds, corn and suet. It’s been through the French doors leading to the outside deck that we’ve been witnessing their happy antics, especially when the snow and ice brought our little creatures crowding one another out to peck away at all the goodies.
The scattered messes they leave on and around the back deck, from empty seed husks to droppings, are forgiven as those that make them are so much fun to watch. But one such remnant, which struck us as much more concerning and unwanted, was a pile of plucked feathers spread out in 3 different areas around the house.
Yes, it seems we have a predator in our midst, one which feeds on vulnerable critters. While debating what it might be (cat? owl? eagle? hawk?), our silent assassin suddenly made himself known by swooping down and perching on the porch railing.
This was none other than a sharp-shinned hawk, which is the only bird in the hawk family that is known to prey on small birds and rodents. After numerous tries at getting a good picture of this slick, stealthy feathered creature, I got him! He perched first in our small backyard tree and hopped down to the railing before sailing off after a small sparrow.
Since that first sighting, we’ve continued to apprehensively await his sudden visitations.
This brings me to the hazards of keeping our Christmas tree, bought in early December for the back deck but not yet sentenced to the trash pile. I’ve watered it continuously for 3 months and you’ll be surprised to know it still holds its soft pine needles and emits that fresh evergreen fragrance. These are the benefits of keeping a freshly cut tree outside in the frigid temperatures of central Illinois.
We left the tree as a shelter for our little birds but have found it more of a death trap. On more than one occasion, we’ve watched our sharp-shinned hawk position himself on the cast-iron deck railing, cast his evil eye deep into the fir tree’s branches and wait patiently for the petrified sparrows within to stir.
They huddle in terror, desperately keeping as still as possible.
One eye flick, one wind-ruffled feather, one shift of tiny feet sends this stealth bomber diving deep within as his prey try desperately to stay out of his reach. On more than one occasion, we’ve watched the race for dear life as our dainty, twittering two or three are chased from their safety zone. They strain in flight, scattering high into the sky, with their sharp-beaked grim reaper swooping fast behind them.
The result has been either an escaped meal or, as my mom and I have found around the house, plucked piles of soft, downy feathers.
Victory or defeat?
While the Olympics are now over, the Paralympics are yet to come. This will place me and my mom yet again in the sitting room, watching the competitive spirit of these special Olympians on TV. At the same time, we’ll be anxiously eyeing our unconcerned, peacefully clustered birds.
For both the humans competing and for our backyard Nature-dwellers feeding at our invitation, one wonders will it be the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat that meets them these next few weeks?
In our silent assassin’s viewpoint, I’m guessing he’s thinking that depends upon whose answering.