T.O. BACKYARD – Raptor Mania

December 2015 started off rather interesting in our Toronto backyard.  We were still getting visits from Red-winged Blackbirds!

redw rwbbdec

I can only recall one other December in the near decade where we had such birds still visiting. We always call the Red-winged Blackbirds our first sign of Spring. The weather was so mild in December; were we going to miss Winter?

I guess Mother Nature finally got through to them and the birds were gone sometime in the second week of the month. Good thing because it wasn’t long after that when things got pretty intense for our feathered friends. I named the ordeal “Raptor-Mania”. We were getting steady visits from one Sharp-shinned Hawk, one Cooper’s Hawk and the resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks were also stopping in hunting our yard critters.

I went the rest of the month without having to fill the bird feeders. I even dumped a couple feeders due to the dampness through one week.

Sure the birds were coming in, just very quick pop ins, grab some seed, and then an alarm call would go off from a Blue Jay or a House Sparrow, and everyone jetted off. A lot of the time we never saw the threat(s) when the birds fled but once in a while the raptors did appear. Some attacks were very brazen, coming in after the birds while I was standing outside. Hungry Hawks? Or just very bold?

I have a flock of Pigeons who visit daily. Some come right to my hand for feed. So when a Cooper’s or Red-tail dive bombs these birds circling my feet, that is something beyond description. Of course I rarely have my camera and when I do, the action is so fast and I’m never expecting it. I don’t wish harm on any of my bird buds, I don’t wish any bird of prey to starve to death, I know it’s all a part of the wild world, it’s nature. I do plan on sharing something about my friendly Pigeons but not in this blog. I have 4 who come to hand and all have disappeared since the attacks started. This is not uncommon, they sometimes stay away for two or more weeks after a close call here.

My hand feeding Pigeon pals during a snow storm last winter.


So far I’ve only witnessed one take down. I’ve not seen any feather remains like I have other winters. Usually I spot a Hawk already on it’s kill. Seeing an actual take down like I did on December 21st still haunts me. The Sharp-shin was sitting in a tree along the fence, just watching and waiting. Over 2 hours passed without any birds coming in and the Hawk stayed in it’s position. I just happened to be looking out the kitchen window, seeing what was going on (if anything), the Hawk was still there, and in flew this Downy Woodpecker. The Downy landed on a branch right next to the Hawk. The Hawk obviously took notice to the Downy. The Downy took notice to the Hawk and panicked, fleeing for it’s life. As soon as the Downy left the tree, the Hawk was on it’s tail, and in mere seconds it was on top of the Woodpecker, pinning it to the ground and it was over. Such a short time frame that is burned into my memory. I felt very bad for the Downy but I was not angry at the Hawk. This is how it goes.

poord1 poord2

A Downy Woodpecker from our backyard but not the one who fell to the Hawk.


The “raptor-mania” eased off some in the last days of December.  Sure we were still seeing the Hawks on occasion but nothing like those couple weeks.  The other birds started returning slowly but of course everyone is still on guard.

What surprised me is one day I counted no less than 97 Pigeons drop into the backyard.  Our average is maybe 20 so this was quite the spectacle.  So bizarre to me though is that none of my friends were in this bunch.  And as well, there wasn’t a Hawk to be seen.  Such a mass of Pigeons should have gotten someone’s attention out there.  I reported almost as many as this number a few days later for our Project Feeder Watch count and was asked to provide further proof of the count.  Good thing I brought my camera out!  I couldn’t get the 90+ that day but this shot shows over 40 in flight.


I know Pigeons aren’t big on a lot of peoples lists out there but they come with our territory of being in the city of Toronto. I can admit in the early days I was always rooting for the Cooper’s Hawk. But after watching one flock of Pigeons the last couple years, growing fond of a few, recognizing many and realizing they really are like people in a community. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors and everyone is an individual with their own personality. It’s like watching a soap opera with the birds. They love, they bicker, they pair up and so on. We can love all birds, can’t we?

Here are a few of the visiting birds of prey from December…

Cooper’s Hawk


Sharp-shinned Hawk


I’ve learned to identify these 2 often mixed up species thanks to the visits to our backyard in the winter.

Red-tailed Hawk


On two occasions, wee early in the morning, both of us have heard (pretty certain) the “toot toot” call of a Northern Saw-whet Owl. We really hope for a visual somewhere around the neighbourhood to confirm this. Stay tuned.

A Northern Saw-whet Owl we saw in a nearby park last winter sleeping the day away.


As for mammal activity, Squirrels, a couple Raccoons and this Virginia Opossum have been showing face.


A lone Rat made an appearance under the feeder pole one morning as well. Having bird feeders, you never know what will come around for a meal.


Thanks for stopping in. See you all next month on the 10th!


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3 Responses to T.O. BACKYARD – Raptor Mania

  1. Nice report.

    It is always distressing to see a take down. Raptors are so swift and efficient. It is dazzling but so quick. The downy you described had the disadvantage of seeing its end and trying to run from it. Most take downs that I have witnessed I always feel the victim never saw it coming…not such a bad thing. 🙂

  2. Tammie Hache says:

    Wow, that’s quite the entertainment you guys had last month but ………. a rat??? I’ll keep my little mice, thanks!

  3. gilda blackmore says:

    What an amazingly busy month in your backyard! Kind of like rush hour on the subway?
    I admire your affection for pigeons. Here in downtown London ON I, almost daily, see a pale buffy-coloured pigeon landing on one particular high-rise balcony. I wonder if they put food out for him/her. But none of the others visit that balcony as this one does. I once had a passenger pigeon land on my 11th floor balcony. That was a highlight!!