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Pirates of the Woods – The Cooper’s Hawk

January 3, 2013
The male Cooper's Hawk early in the season

The male Cooper’s Hawk early in the season

I was out running the other morning when I saw a bird fly off as I approached. I stopped and listened in the winter silence and searched the tree tops and shrubs for  a sight of the bird. Then a Cooper’s Hawk male burst from the trees about 20m away. I recall the sound and sight of wings as he wheeled over my head and away. It was a great winter moment.

The female Cooper's Hawk after delivering food to the nest

The female Cooper’s Hawk after delivering food to the nest

I wonder – was that the male of the pair that has nested here for the past two seasons (assuming it is the same pair of birds)? Three young Cooper’s Hawks have been fledged from that nest hidden in the woods in each of the past two seasons. I was able to watch the nest last year from the time the adult birds brought back nesting material  in spring to the last fall day the birds called and fed in the area.

The first day out of the nest - a young Cooper's Hawk

The first day out of the nest – a young Cooper’s Hawk

I found a spot where I could just see the young (with binoculars) once they had hatched. The male often “posted guard” on a tall snag from where he could see the nest while the female  sat on the eggs and young. Both birds brood the young, but it seemed to be the female that took on that duty most often. Later, both parents were kept busy bringing back birds, chipmunks, squirrels and other food for the young. It was not easy to see the adults because  they usually  flew right into the nest without perching nearby first. Very occasionally I got to see the adults feeding the young. Very cool! This past season, two of the young left the nest earlier than the third, who stayed the smallest through the season. All the young survived long enough to migrate, however.

Ready to go - a young Cooper's Hawk just before the birds leave the area in fall

Ready to go – a young Cooper’s Hawk just before the birds leave the area in fall

I found evidence of the Cooper’s Hawk’s predation as I walked through the woods – a pile of Varied Thrush or Ruffed Grouse feathers and splotches of blood. I saw a fledgling feeding on a chipmunk brought in by an adult. I was also watching four Northern Flickers feed at my feeder last winter when a Cooper’s Hawk flew in fast and low and drove a female flicker into the woods. Predators like Cooper’s Hawks often evoke mixed emotions. I love to see these birds, however: they are breath-taking as they burst through the woods in pursuit. They have evolved as efficient predators of the woods and hatch with all the equipment, skill and mentality of a killer. Killer is such a judgmental word. We do not often call humans who eat meat killers. Cooper’s Hawks would not survive unless they ate other animals. Cooper’s Hawks may not be merciful, but neither are they cruel. It is my experience that these qualities belong only to humans.

All photos and writing in this blog copyright J.A. Siderius, 2013.

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