[CT Birds] bird freezing habit

David F Provencher david.f.provencher at dom.com
Tue Apr 3 11:45:30 EDT 2012

Birds can remain motionless for either reason, danger awareness (accipiter) or illness. Generally more common to see the defensive behavior, but one way to get more info is to try and see the eyes. A bird remaining still from fear will have eyes wide open (and sometimes the bird will be very slightly and slowly moving its head to scan the area) but an ill bird will very often have eyes partially or completely closed. A bird doesn't necessarily need to see the threat to freeze, it may freeze in response to hearing the alarm call of other birds. I used to see this quite often when I fed birds. Fluffed out feathers is also more likely an indication of illness than a defensive behavior.

One memorable experience I had involved a Downy Woodpecker and an adult Cooper's Hawk. I was drinking my morning coffee and walked over to the French doors to look at the feeding station. Frozen on the house feeder was a Downy Woodpecker, and directly in line with that in the trees beyond was a Cooper's Hawk staring at the feeder. The three of us formed the three points on a line, the hawk and I were the outer points and the Downy was the point in between. Well the Downy's apprehension was too great and it launched into flight directly away from death perched in the tree. The problem was the Downy was flying directly and furiously towards the forest it saw reflected in the glass of the French doors! The Hawk launch in hot pursuit and I instantly saw these two birds hurtling toward me as I stood on the other side of the glass. I started to wave my arms in hopes the Downy would see the motion and change course, but it was so terrified (understandably so) of the hawk there was no way it was going to see me behind the reflection of safety. In the matter of a moment the Downy slammed into the glass and crumpled to the deck. This sudden and inexplicable action startled the hawk which veered at the last moment and unknowingly only just avoided impacting the glass as well. Luckily the door opened inward and I was able to snatch open the door and pick the lifeless Downy up before the hawk could circle back. The hawk went back to a watchful perch and the Downy went into a warm dark box. The Downy recovered completely shortly thereafter and was released looking very alert and active (with a probable concussion admittedly). Ironic that a window strike should save a birds life...


David Provencher

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