It was the beginning of warmer weather, when the changing day length tells birds to begin their migration back north.
This is a time that my family looks forward to, not only because we enjoy the warmth, but because we like the birds.
We have a pond in our backyard, fully as large as the footprint of our house. This is what attracts the birds on their migration path to stop, take a rest, and fill up with the bugs, frogs, or fish teeming there. Pure white herons, blue herons, large hawks, Mallards, and Wood Ducks, are only a part of the sights we see.
We have always hoped that some will stop and decide to stay. But it never happens. The birds want more quiet and peace of mind than a pond only four yards/meters from a house full of noisy children will bring.
So each time a new bird is sighted, either around the pond or floating peacefully on it, we all rush to the great glass sunporch windows overlooking the pond, and attempt (and more often fail in the attempt) to silently watch and enjoy the beautiful birds of the wild that have come to enjoy our pond.
On one particular day, someone raised the shout that there was a “funny bird” perched on the top of our birdhouse which stands on a peninsula of the pond. We dropped our various activities, and there was a wild stampede to see that bird.
Gazing out at the bird, we saw that it was indeed a character. It was smaller than a robin redbreast, yet it stood there on the birdhouse with such self-assurance in its posture, that it looked like the king of the pond. There were feathers sticking up like a Mohawk on its head, which also added to the royal effect, as, with a little imagination, the Mohawk could look like a crown.
Someone ran to get Mom. She is the naturalist of the family, and knows about everything we would need to know of any bug, beetle, water creature, and, what was important at this moment, about birds.
Mom looked through the smudged handprints on the glass at the mysterious bird. She recognized it immediately. “It is a Belted Kingfisher,” she said. “See the white underbelly and its blue color? And see the rust-colored band around her chest? That means she is a female. The male birds have a blue band, to match their back feathers.”
The rest of her words were lost in the excited screams from about half of my siblings at once,
“The kingfisher! The kingfisher! It’s flying off the birdhouse!”
The Belted Kingfisher swooped down from the birdhouse toward the water. Then with a dexterity that clearly showed experience of the thousands of times she had repeated this act, she plunged only her head into the water. When drawing it up again, she held in her beak a small silver fish, which she carried to the bank.
We watched as the fish squirmed and wriggled and as the kingfisher fought against it, in an effort to work it down her throat. Finally, with a mighty gulp, she swallowed the fish, preened for a few seconds, and then just sat still on the bank. Speculating, we decided she was either looking for another fish or just resting after a satisfying meal.
After a few minutes of observing the unmoving kingfisher, I, along with some of my siblings, remembered the activities we had been doing before the shout that a new and interesting species had been spotted. Our work invited us back, and we wandered off to pick it up again.
However, it wasn’t long until a second shout echoed throughout the house, by those of my siblings who had remained to observe the kingfisher. “Come quick, come quick!” was the yell.
And, for the second time that day, a stampede started to the sunporch. Reaching the scene of action, there was a major cry of astonishment and regret. For there on the bank was not only the Belted Kingfisher, but a Cooper’s Hawk. The hawk had its talons firmly latched into the kingfisher’s back, and now in his turn was attempting to get a satisfying meal.
Looking around, I saw that I wasn’t the only one in disbelief that a hawk would eat a kingfisher. The kingfisher was small, but not as small as a mouse, which I had thought was the regular-size food of a hawk. It just seemed unreal that a hawk would go after prey that big.
While we hadn’t minded the loss of a fish, we did mind the loss of a kingfisher. After all, it was the first time we had seen it visit our pond, and the hawk was most definitely spoiling the faint hope we had that it might stay.
And so we took action. Opening the door of the sunporch as loudly as possible, we began such a cacophony of noises as only nine siblings can make, in an effort to scare the hawk away from gobbling up the kingfisher.
It was no use.
The Cooper’s Hawk was startled, but determined to keep his dinner. He took off, carrying in his talons the still-struggling kingfisher. We watched with chagrin as the hawk, now only a mere speck, swooped toward the trees. We hoped that in those dark woods the kingfisher would find a chance of escape from the sharp talons of its captor. Needless to say, whatever was the case, the kingfisher did not return to our pond.
That moment served as a learning experience to me and my siblings. Here the rules of the wild had been brought to our very doorstep with vivid reality. In order to live, bellies had to be filled. A kingfisher would eat fish, and a hawk would eat the kingfisher. It was life and the relentless cycle of nature’s food chain.