Mallards and Hawks Perched in Walnut Tree?

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle 

When human workers fill the Christmas tree fields in my area, many of the tree farm’s resident birds leave their usual stomping (scratching?) grounds to hang out in the safety of my backyard.

There is a bevy of Mourning Doves (also known as a cote, dole, dule or flight of doves) that lives in the tree farm across the road from my house. They create quite a clamor as they flitter around, their wings whistling as they go. I enjoy having them over for a visit, but they tend to scare me as much as I scare them when I come upon the whole group suddenly as I round the corner of the house.

There is also a murder of American Crows (also known as a cauldron, congress, horde, or muster of crows) that lives in the tree farm just south of my farm.

I’m not sure what it is about the crows that disturb my songbirds, but whenever the crows come calling, the birds kick up a fuss so loud it can even be heard above the rattle of my computer keyboard as I work in my home office.

It gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘cacophony.’

This morning, as I heard the racket and roar of irritated birdsong start up, I went out the back door to see what was the matter (I’ll take any excuse to quit work and bird watch). There I discovered a pair of crows hanging out near the barn.

I looked up to see hordes of songbirds filling a majority of the branches in my ancient walnut tree. Pine Siskins and House Finches, twittering away with their scolding songs — each song ending with a fancy “zzzzzreeet!” Dark-eyed Juncos with their “tsick, tsick, tsick” and European Starlings — a large constellation of them (also known as a filth, a murmuration, scourge or vulgarity of starlings) sitting in the top of the tree — emitting a series of discordant notes, squeaks, rasps and rattles.

Suddenly I heard the familiar sound of a Red-tailed Hawk — “keee-ahrr” — coming from the same tree.

Now that struck me as kinda funny. Hawk don’t usually perch in trees with songbirds (or vice versa), not in my backyard anyway.

I watched as the crows cocked an ear to the hawk’s cry, hop a bit closer to the barn, but then continue to carry on with the business of hunting up my resident Western Scrub Jay’s winter stash of walnuts hidden throughout the yard. (That’s my own suspicion, anyway.)

Then the hawk let out another cry, and then another. I still couldn’t see him.

Finally scared off, the crows flew away.

The noise quickly settled down as the intruders left the yard space, and as happy tweets started up again — this time at a tolerable level — I suddenly realized that it wasn’t a hawk making all that noise, but one of the starlings.

(I’ve heard the imitated sound from a songbird before, but from a Steller’s Jay, whose hawk cry I had followed around the yard, trying to pin it down and identify the culprit. When I finally found him, he looked right at me and said, “keeee-ahr!” so I knew it was him.)

I shook my head in wonder at the ingenuity of the silly black scourge of songbird world. Cheeky bird, I thought.

Then as I was heading back into the house I heard another sound, the sound of a female Mallard duck, perched in the top of my walnut tree.

That’s some talented flock of starlings I’ve got.

The (Almost) Daily Bird

If you haven’t traveled on over to my blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), now’s the time to go.

I’ve just posted pictures of the latest bird and mammal sightings in my backyard, a few photographs from readers backyards and bird outings and a whole slew of photographs from my recent visit to Ridgefield NWR.

If you have a photo or two that you wouldn’t mind sharing with Chronicle readers of your own Outdoors escapades, I’d love to post them on my blog. Email them to me at kz@tds.net. And, please, try and keep the file size down to a minimum if you can. I only have dial-up internet and my email inbox gets cranky when people try to load over-sized packages into it. I post photographs at a maximum of 640 pixels wide and averaging 100kb in size.

Happy birding!

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and Outdoors enthusiast who lives in Cinebar.  Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or on facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle). Contact her at kim@almostdailynews.com, text or call 269-5017.