Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cooper's Hawk

For several years we had a bird feeder in our backyard and Judy called me one day at work to let me know she'd taken a picture of a hawk sitting on our bird feeder. It is a little blurry, but is evidence that this hawk was using the feeder as a stalking ground to find some nice birds to eat.

Cooper's Hawks and Sharp Shinned Hawks are notorious for hanging around bird feeders to find their favorite prey: other birds. This is the first we became aware that we had Cooper's hawks in our area.

During the spring of 2002, I regularly walked for exercise in Live Oak Canyon, near our home in Redlands. One morning I caught the attention of two hawks on my walk and figured I must be near a nest.
They were both letting out a cak-cak-cak call that let me know they were irritated.

As I got to the edge of a large oak tree one of them dive-bombed me and I hit the dirt in an effort to preserve my head. It really got my juices running.

Then, up in the branches, I discovered what the fuss was all about. A large nest of twigs was resting on one of the branches. From that day on, I made almost daily visits to the oak tree on my morning walks. I got dive-bombed many more times and got quite familiar with the cak-cak of the birds as I got near. I pretty much decided they wouldn't hit me in the dive-bomb, but I was never able to stop the involuntary urge to hit the dirt when they did so.

One Saturday morning I saw a glimpse of some white-downed nestlings and went back home for my camera. I believe Andrew came back with me. I began a very precarious journey up into the tree to get a good angle for some pictues. I had to shinney up a segment of a limb without any branches for support, but finally got to a spot with some side branches that gave enough support to set-up and take pictures.

This was my first experience peering into a hawks nest with hatchlings and I reveled in the moment. I recall three hatchlings, but my pictures only record two. The third may be hidden behind.

A close-up of the hatchling's head reveals some dried blood from a prior meal.

I got quite attached to these birds due to my regular visits. I found myself talking out loud to their parents telling them that I wouldn't hurt their babies. I just wanted to visit and look at them. The parents didn't listen to me. They continued to scold me each time I visited.

My father died in June of that year, 2002. I received the shocking phone call from my sister at 6:00 a.m. I woke up Judy, to let her know, and then said I needed some time alone. I walked for quite a while, sorting out the thoughts and feelings bombarding me, dealing with my grief, trying to figure out what to do (within an hour or two I was in the car on my way to Salt Lake to be with my mother). Then I found myself at the tree, talking to the birds. There was something very comforting and soothing in the presence of these beautiful, wild creatures. I could now face the world. I will always associate these birds with my father's death, in a very positive way.

Later that summer, camera in hand, I was startled to find the hatchlings, now juveniles, out of the nest and in some branches near the ground. Their feathers were all fluffed-up and they looked fierce and enormous - bigger than their parents. What an amazing experience! The juvenile below dropped to the ground and hid in a bush.

So I turned my attention to the other juvenile.

It awkwardly hoisted itself into the air, much like a barn owl, and I think it was probably its first flight. With the fluffed-up feathers, it looked like a big-haired old woman on a bad-hair day.

I then turned back again to the other young Cooper's hawk and was able to get some close views of its now more mature face, beak and feathers.

Still blood on the beak, and blue eyes, unlike the eyes of its parents that are red.

And the imposing talons.

We continue to see the Cooper's hawks in our neighborhood, but I've not found them nesting in the tree. A housing development has gone in and ruined much of my hiking space in the canyon. However, the large oak tree remains, but just about 30 yards from a road. I have very fond memories of that summer and my "birdies."

It is difficult to differentiate between Cooper's hawks and sharp shinned hawks and I had determined my "birdies" were sharp shinned hawks. However, today, in looking them up on the internet, I've determined that they were actually Cooper's hawks. Two things sealed it. First, the allaboutbirds website shows the Cooper's nesting in southern California, while the sharp shinned does not. Second, and most convincing to me, was the recorded sounds of the birds. When I clicked on the sharp shinned voice, it was not familiar. But when I clicked on the Cooper's call, I was transformed back in time to when the dive-bombing parents provided me with such a wonderful experience, clak-clak-claking away. The label of the call "near nest" is exactly it. See ( What wonderful memories!

We have felt that we have had Cooper's hawks nests in our neighbor's trees for several years. In July 2013 that was confirmed. On two occasions I found a young Cooper's hawk on the birdbath in our backyard. On the second occasion, a young sibling stood on our garage at the same time. I add some pictures of these Cooper's hawks.
Cooper's hawk on our birdbath in July 2013.

The Cooper's hawk on the second occasion.

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