My yard should be full of migrating songbirds this time of year. But there wasn’t a bird to be seen or heard last week.

    My yard should be full of migrating songbirds this time of year.  But there wasn’t a bird to be seen or heard last week.  

    No birds in the trees, shrubs or grass.   And no birds at the feeders.  

    Was it the seed?  I checked.  The seeds were fresh, clean and dry.  

    Maybe the feeders are dirty.   I wash them in hot, soapy water and bleach regularly.  Just to be sure, I took them down and washed them again.  I let them air-dry, then filled them half-way with fresh seed.

    Still no action.

    What’s going on here?   

    I found a clue in an email from my bird-watching friend, Paula Cater who lives on a farm in Red Lake County.  She had a hawk in her yard.  She asked if I could identify it.  

    It was a Sharp-shinned.  They eat birds, insects and small mammals.  Ah-ha!   Maybe that’s what’s going on:  a hawk in the yard.

    I went outside and looked.  Nothing on the roof.  Nothing in the trees along the driveway.  Hawks often hunt along edges between woods and open areas.  Not today.

    Then I heard the familiar “jay- jay” call of one of my favorite birds:  Blue Jays.

    They’re the vigilantes of the bird world.   All it takes is a couple of boisterous “boys in blue” to find, then encourage a hawk (or an owl) to move on.  Maybe the jays can help me locate the hawk in my yard.

    I put out a handful of peanuts in-the-shell, the jay’s favorite food. Then I went back in the house and watched the feeders from my kitchen window.   Would the jays take the bait?

    It wasn’t long before a “party” of jays came out of nowhere.  Each darted over to the pile of peanuts, grabbed one and dashed to a nearby oak.   Seconds later, they were joined by three Sharp-shinned Hawks, calling as they flew.

    The jays stood their ground.  Four of them went on the offensive – taking after the hawks, one at a time.  

    Scientists have a name for this seemingly suicidal behavior.  It’s called “mobbing.”   That’s exactly what it looked like.  

    The brazen jays went after the hawk closest to the feeders first – a big female sitting on an exposed limb, flexing her wings in a threatening way.  Undaunted, the jays went at her from all sides, flapping and screaming a cacophony of “jay-jay” calls.   The flustered hawk flew from one tree to another, the jays literally on her tail.  Then finally, she took off to the west, and disappeared.  

    One down, two to go.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a small flock of American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins as they landed in a nearby tree.  Would they join the mobbing?  Not this time.  They seemed content to watch the Blue Jays do all the work.  

    Turns out the jays didn’t need any help.  All it took was a few ear-piercing screams up-close and personal.  The two smaller hawks took off.

    A short time later, I heard the “jay-jay” calls again at the peanut pile.  My favorite birds were back, filling their cheeks with goobers.  They weren’t alone.  Soon the feeding station was bustling with hungry songbirds and their heroes – the four brassy Blue Jays.

    But the story doesn’t end there.  Later in the day, the hawks came back.

    The big female Sharp-shinned Hawk, talons ready, mounted a surprise attack.  She flew right at one of the jays.  The two smaller hawks joined her.  The jay screamed, but didn’t seem to be injured.  

    I watched the aerial battle from the window.  The hawks finally retreated.  The jays survived, unscathed and full of themselves.

    The hawks returned yet again, the next day.  Apparently as long as the feeders are full of songbirds, hawks aren’t likely to move on.  What can you do?  Shoot them?

    No, don’t even think about it.  

    It’s illegal (as in fines and even jail time) to shoot or harass birds of prey - eagles, hawks and owls - without a permit.  They are protected by state, federal and international laws.

    There’s only legal alternative:  take down your feeders for a couple of days.  When there’s no feathered food at the feeders, hawks will move on.  

    Songbirds will find their way back to the yard as soon as they hear the jays’ “all clear” signal.