DIXFIELD — Wildlife photographer Laurie Taylor got the thrill of her life on Friday morning when she spotted what she thought was a peregrine falcon in her backyard.
The raptor, which was actually a young sharp-shinned hawk, had killed a pigeon for breakfast and decided to eat it on the spot. It was too heavy to carry.
“I thought it was an overstuffed mourning dove at first, and then I realized it wasn’t,” Taylor said.
The raptor wasn’t much bigger than the pigeon.
Taylor lives on a corner of the confluence of the Webb and Androscoggin Rivers, so she’s seen and photographed plenty of wildlife, including several bald eagles that frequent the location.
“I knew it was some kind of falcon, but I had seen it about the same time as that other guy, Gaudet,” she said.
She was referring to a Sun Journal story on April 13 about Mark Gaudet of Mexico, who believes he saw a peregrine falcon dive on a robin near where he sat on April 12 in the yard of his friend, Steven Santos at 43 Osgood Ave. in Mexico.
Taylor said that’s when she first saw the pigeon-munching raptor in her yard and thought it was a peregrine.
“My mother was saying, ‘What’s that? What’s that?’” she said. “And then we saw it a couple days later in the paper, that article.”
“We’ve never seen him before up until the last couple of weeks,” Taylor said of the hawk. “We’ve seen everything else, moose, deer, raccoons, river rats. There’s nothing that hasn’t been behind our house.”
When she again saw the hawk at about 8 a.m. on Friday and realized it couldn’t carry off its kill despite trying to, she wanted to photograph it.
“It was tearing up the pigeon,” Taylor said. “I mean there was feathers flying. He was enjoying his meal.”
She grabbed her digital camera, but the batteries were dead, so she had to charge them just long enough to venture out again.
Taylor said the still-feasting hawk let her get within 10 feet of it.
“I didn’t dare to get any closer because I was afraid it would attack me,” she said.
“I bet I probably could have got closer, because he was too busy eating his food, but I thought he would get me, and I didn’t want to be ripped to shreds because I had to go to work.”
Once she had the photographs, she researched the Internet with her laptop to try and identify the raptor.
She also posted the photographs on her Facebook site, hoping friends would figure it out.
A few thought it was a peregrine, but two others said it looked like either a sharp-shinned or broadwing hawk.
The identification came on Saturday via email to this writer, who suspected it was a sharp-shinned but sought confirmation from birding friends.
Jeannette Lovitch said the “Sharpie,” what birders call sharp-shinned hawks, is an immature female due to its size. Females are larger than males.
Lovitch co-owns Freeport Wild Bird Supply with her husband, Derek, and organized the annual two-month Hawk Watch atop Bradbury Mountain in Pownal.
“A pigeon is a nice meal for a Sharpie, and yes, it would not be able to easily carry it off,” she said.
Lovitch distinguished it from a Cooper’s hawk, saying the Sharpie’s “dirty” streaking on the breast and belly goes down to its leg feathers.
“Cooper’s usually looks cleaner, with more contrast between the white background and darker streaking,” she said. “Also, the bill and legs look slender to me.”
Lovitch also allayed Taylor’s fears about getting attacked by the Sharpie.
“No worries about being attacked by any raptor, especially not a Sharpie,” she said. “Sharp-shinneds in particular are almost exclusively bird hunters.”
“However, I would caution people not to approach a feeding raptor as it will flush off the kill if disturbed, and thus lose a well-earned meal.”