Trouble with predators in the gardens

Published 10:00 am Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Cooper’s hawk visits the gardens preying on the smaller birds that come to feed. - Carol Hegel Lang/Albert Lea Tribune

A Cooper’s hawk visits the gardens preying on the smaller birds that come to feed. – Carol Hegel Lang/Albert Lea Tribune

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

This past week, a Cooper’s hawk has been visiting the gardens where he will perch atop the large feeder that sits on the oak stump as he scours the landscape looking for birds to prey upon. He is a magnificent bird with such a keen eye that he will notice even the slightest movement in the area.

A small shrub that sits about six feet from the stump is where the sparrows seek shelter from not only predators, but the weather when it is nasty. Most times during the day they can be seen flying in and out of the bush to the feeders to eat or the birdbath where they will bathe or drink water even during the cold winter months.

Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang

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When the hawk spies the birds hiding in the shrub, he will glide over and sit on top of this bush with the sparrows sitting nervously inside the twigs. If they don’t fly away, he will wait for a few minutes circling the shrub poking his head inside trying to scare them out so he can catch one as it flies away. This went on for about 30 minutes while he kept intimidating the sparrows. He must have gotten bored with it, so he flew to the back of the yard and perched on the fence. Another day he sat on the tuteur that sits in the same triangle for more than an hour waiting for someone to become careless and fly. It was a very cold day and I am sure the birds really needed to get some food to keep themselves warm, but no one took the bait and flew until he left the area.

Over the years I have developed a love/hate relationship with the predators that visit the gardens. I enjoy watching them, but hate to see them kill birds. My feral cats are well fed by my neighbor and myself, yet they will lie under the low growing bushes and leap out and up to snag a small bird on the feeders. During the summer months, when the hummingbirds are in the gardens, I have to be very careful where I hang the feeders because the cats can leap quite high. I am always afraid they will snatch one of the jewels of the garden.

One of the benefits of having cats is they catch the mice and voles that can wreak havoc with the gardens. When we had Marley, every morning I would be greeted by a dead vole or mice on the patio where he proudly sat waiting for his reward. Marley was always in the gardens with me. One spring he tried to catch the wrens and I had to put an immediate stop to that nasty habit. A squirt gun filled with water and shooting him in the face with a firm shout of “No,” and he got the message after a few times.

I realize that their needs to be a balance with Mother Nature, or the predators would die off and the birds could possibly do damage to the things growing in the gardens, but I try to minimize the damage the predators do to my birds. The birds eat the insects that cause damage to the plants, so  I don’t need to use harsh chemicals and that works well for me.

This quote from The Ladies Repository, September 1874, “Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best,” really holds great advice when it comes to loving or hating certain birds or animals. They all play a vital role in maintaining the landscape that surrounds my yard.

The other day, as I drove by Frank Hall Park, an eagle was just flying up from the water near the fishing pier where he must have been looking for food. It put such a wide smile on my face, as it had been several months since I had seen one of the magnificent birds. I was beginning to wonder if we even had any that were nesting in the park this year. He must be very happy that the lake is not frozen over yet, making it easy to find food.

“He clasps the crag with crooked hands; close to the sun in lonely hands, ringed with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; he watches from his mountain walls, and like a thunderbolt he falls.”  — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Eagle”


Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears weekly. Email her at