Friday, November 27, 2009

My Neighbor-The Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk watching a Ring-billed Gull glide by

Today was another lousy, raw and rainy day which makes birding pretty tough on the optics and the toes so I decided to get outside for a run instead and bring my camera with me under my rain gear should I see anything that would catch my eye. No sooner was I at a slow jog, that I saw my new neighbor Mrs. Cooper across the street a few houses down from my own dwelling. I take out my Blackberry and note the time as her usual pattern is to perch on this tree between the hour of 7 and 8 AM and it's close to 10 which I noted and then took out my camera for a couple of quick pictures of course as the rain was pretty steady at this point and I now know what rain can do to a camera so use extreme caution as I don't want a repeat of what happened to me at Salisbury Beach.

I used my old take 6 steps and stop approach with each stop meaning another picture and I was able to get fairly close to her without causing much alarm so I paused to observe. There were other birds in the area which I will get to further down this post and she would swivel her head to look at all of them including a Ring-billed Gull who glided past her as it was on its way to Windel Field for handouts I'm sure.

Anyhow, I used this as an opportunity to get a really good look at the Cooper's as I have been calling her a female for the past couple of weeks based solely on size which is always a good indicator but by no means always accurate, especially for a newbie such as myself. Another way to distinguish a male from a female is by the color of their cheeks. A male Coops will have a gray nape and cheeks whereas the females will generally be rufous colored as shown above. I also wondered about the general age of the hawk and whether or not she was the one that used to terrorize my feeders this past winter.
A photo of the female in question. She and her male friend were in my yard late last winter and the male had killed a Rock Pigeon for her and then stood guard in a tree while she woofed down his offerings. This whole situation still leaves me perplexed because it was obvious these two were a pair of some sort but the female above was obviously rather young (appears to be a first adult plumage) and most Cooper's Hawks will not breed until at least their second year. Anyhow, if you go back to the first photo you can see this female looks darker overall so perhaps this is the same hawk from last year or perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part.
Another interesting thing about the whole situation was the fact there there were other birds around and they weren't hiding despite the fact that the Coop's looked a little hungry. If you enlarge the photo above you will see a bird perched in a tree at the immediate upper left hand side of the picture. Go to the last tree on the right of the picture and there is the Cooper's Hawk.

The bird on the left was an American Crow who was attempting to dry off its feathers some as well as serve as a sentry as a couple of crows were nearby on the ground eating. There were also a few Blue-jays in the area that I never did see but heard as they were causing quite the racket with their alarm calls. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for a good old fashioned Blue Jay mobbing a Hawk photo opportunity and it never happened as the bravado the jays get around Red-tailed Hawks didn't seem to want to appear when dealing with a Cooper's Hawk which is even more interesting as the Coops is by far more of a threat to a Blue Jay than a Red-tailed Hawk is solely by their preference in prey.
The Blue Jays take every opportunity they can to harass a Red-tailed Hawk and in fact, seem to delight in it in so why not the same with a Cooper's Hawk? I looked at the Conrell site and they do mention Cooper's being victims of Blue Jay mobbings (especially in flight while carrying prey), but my observations tell me the Blue Jays are rather smart and were hidden when the Cooper's was around and knew if they tried to mob it they may have become breakfast.
Instead they prefer to pick on the poor old Red-tailed Hawks like the photo above taken this past summer. As you can see Mrs. Red-tailed is not at all happy about this as she was trying to feast on woodchuck and take care of her two young in the nest nearby. The funny thing about this whole situation was the Blue Jays never did once attempt to take a swipe at either of the two young hawks. Perhaps it was because they didn't perceive them as a threat or perhaps they knew if they took a swipe at the youngins then mamma may step in and death would be most certain. Whatever the reason it just goes to show you that Blue Jays are very smart birds and opportunistic dive bombers with the Red-tailed Hawk being the preferred target.

Take care all.


Rich said...

Awesome Pictures!!!

I am learning alot about birding from you - Thanks.

eileeninmd said...

You did get some great photos of the Coopers hawk. The with the female and food is great.

Rich said...


Your blog has been nominated for a Bloggers choice award.

Kim said...

Thanks Rich!!! I will go check it out!


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