Living Columns & Blogs

Joan Carson: Cooper’s hawk will soon learn to hunt properly

Birding

March 29, 2016 3:50 PM

The loud calling overhead was startling and a bit of a mystery. It was one of those rare days when the weather is pleasant enough for me to attack those annoying weed patches. The calling bird shot through the yard like a rocket but was still easy to identify. Most of the time, the Cooper’s hawk is a silent hunter. Along with its look-a-like, the smaller sharp-shinned hawk, they are the most vocal near their nests.

This bird looked like the immature Cooper’s that has been hanging about our yard for several weeks. Feeders are popular with these accipiters, especially the younger birds who are still learning to hunt.

The bird in flight appeared to be using its loud call to scare up something to eat, but everyone had taken to the bushes and was sitting tight. It flew over the yard, around the tops of the tall firs and away from my yard. This bold hawk has not only ventured close to the feeders and the nearby fence, it has perched right on the front porch railing. One hummingbird feeder is about 2 feet away from the railing. I can’t imagine a hawk hunting hummingbirds, but this one did look fierce when viewed through the window at such a close distance. It didn’t give up easily.

After giving me a hard look from stern eyes, it moved to the fence and turned its head in every imaginable position continuing to look for “food.” It seemed almost desperate, and that was the same impression it gave when flying through the yard while calling loudly several days later. For these smaller hawks, hunting is more difficult right now.

Almost overnight, most of the juncos disappeared. No longer are they chasing each other around the yard in territorial squabbles. Their large numbers have deserted the feeding station. One or two pairs are all that remain as the bulk of their population spreads out looking for nesting territories. Flocking birds like the juncos, pine siskins and finches make a feeding area a busy place, and this activity periodically attracts hunting hawks. When the birds disperse prior to nesting and most of the population moves to other areas, hunting is no longer so easy.

Accipiters are wily hunters. They will sit concealed in tall trees and wait patiently for long periods of time before they strike. The impatient bird that flashed through the yard while telling the world he was there will have to learn that. I’m confident he will, and as the weeks go by, his hunting will improve along with the weather. His overhead calling was a mystery only because I didn’t recognize the sound. It sounded like a hawk but which one?

I’ve heard the shrill, high-pitched call that the sharp-shinned hawk makes, but can’t recall ever hearing the cry of the Cooper’s hawk. There is a similarity, but the pitch is different. It’s lower, but it is still startling. Of course, I had to look up as soon as I heard it. That gave me a good look at the long tail for which the Cooper’s is known. Also easy to see was the bold white stripe on the end of its tail.

Unless a hawk overhead is a red-tailed, I always seem to go into a mental stall when a raptor is spotted. This time I didn’t miss it, and what a great feeling.

Write to Joan Carson at P.O. Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Or send an email to joanpcarson@comcast.net.

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