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Cooper’s Hawk Has Been Feasting In My Backyard

June 4, 2013

Cooper's Hawk Has Been Feasting In My Backyard

Today I got to see another kill made by the male coopers hawk that’s been frequenting the trees behind my condo. Being three stories up in the canopy you get to see a lot of things that you normally miss from the ground. This is the third time I’ve seen it happen since spring and I just can’t seem to get a clear picture with my phone. It is definitely the male because he’s about one third smaller than the female who is still staying close by the nest. Much like our Western culture, the male is expected to go out and earn, at least while she is pregnant or there are still babies in the nest. I have witnessed their life cycle from egg to juvenile once before and found it fascinating.

I lived at a different location back in 2007 where there were a lot of big trees and two vacant lots bordering.  Around early late March to early April I began seeing the adults gather nesting materials, sometimes at ground level, from the surrounding acreage. They slowly built a nest about the size of small chair about 40 feet off the ground in an oak tree. Once the nest was constructed, the female sat quietly for the next month while the male brought up to six birds an hour to her after making swift kills in my back yard. It was the year of the cicadas and nature’s abundance allowed for all five eggs that hatched to make it to at least the juvenile adult phase by the end of the summer. This could all be witnessed from my bedroom window at the time and I was amazed that they chose a site so close to the house. They timed their mating, nest building, and the eventual hatching of their young perfectly with the arrival of the Spring song bird migration.

This year, it’s now early June and the young have hatched from the eggs. I still see the adult male daily, sometimes just his shadow out of the corner of my eye as he swoops by the window. His tactics are flawless and include an initial pass to scare all birds into surrounding brush and hedges like arborvitae. Once they hide and feel they are safe he waits on a perch about fifteen feet off the ground until they begin to venture out of their cover. As soon as they show themselves and reveal their hiding spot their fate is sealed as this bird will dive talons first into the cover and usually pull a tiny helpless victim out upon emergence. I’ve noticed that he’s doing a little less sharing as of late, today he sat outside on a high tree top perch and filled up on song bird protein.

Coopers hawks are accipiters and have long tails with shorter broader wings than other common soaring hawks like Red Tails. The long tail and short wings are engineered for superior maneuverability and have allowed this species to thrive in modern day suburbia. It’s hard to believe that these birds were on the way out just some forty years ago. A century and a half of farmers blasting them with shotguns for stealing chickens and the pesticide DDT that weakened their egg shells came very close to taking them out.

Chicken hawks as they are sometimes called in rural parts had the misfortune of being a top predator in their ecosystem. In this role they inevitably ingested an enormous amount of DDT due to their prey consuming large amounts of insects. Once the use of the poison was curtailed and chicken production has largely moved indoors they have had a chance to recover and are now classified as common. I’ve seen them from California to Florida and they only thing that seems to change from place to place is their plumage. Slightly different coloring to match the different landscapes. Evolution is an unstoppable force and has created a real machine with this bird. Maybe I’ll get a pic of my own one of these days.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) ta...

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