Cooper’s Hawk – A Bird Eating Bird

Hawks are very difficult to approach. This one was by a forest-service water trough in North Heglar Canyon. He seemed cooperative, and so I crawled on my belly and got very close to take this picture. He’s a young hawk and perhaps that is the reason I was able to get quite close. He was frequenting the area in hopes of catching other birds that were coming in to drink.

Cooper’s Hawk & its smaller look-alike, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, are both predators that feed on other birds. “Sharpies” feast on the smaller species while Cooper’s will take birds the size of doves. Their falcon-type, streamlined bodies make swift pursuit possible. Exceptionally maneuverable through trees, they really “zoom” after their prey. We have an extensive bird feeding set-up in our yard, and these two hawks hang around in our trees. They make surprise attacks, scattering birds in all directions, as they swiftly appear out of nowhere. The reason why bird feeders need to be situated close to cover, is so a quick dive into a protected area is possible.

These two species are classified as Accipiters. These are medium-sized hawks with slender bodies, long tails, and short wings. These attributes give them great maneuverability in the tree habitats in which they reside. Cooper’s is 14” to 20” long. “Sharpies” are 10” to 14” long. Another difference is that the Cooper’s Hawk has a rounded end to its tail while Sharp-Shinned tail is squared.

Although we hate disturbance at our bird feeders, the appearance of one of these predators is always exciting. They are only doing what they are programmed to do. They are not nearly as great a menace as are the many stray house cats that we are plagued with – or the dogs that feel free to frequent our yard.

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk:A Never Ending Presence at Bird Feeders

There he was, sitting on a wheel that is anchored on the top of a post – a post that holds an assortment of our bird feeders, right outside our window and only a few feet distance. There we were, looking eye to eye. Suddenly a Magpie appeared on a branch of a close-by tree. He apparently wanted to be part of the action. Magpies seem to get a “kick” out of courting danger and by taking chances; it seemingly, enlivens their lives.

However, this was not close enough. The Magpie flew down to a feeding platform that was not more than eight feet from the “bird eating” hawk. He was clearly trying to annoy the hawk. My wife hypothesized that the Magpie must be too large for this small hawk to take. That was contrary to the hawk’s opinion, as he was off in a flash and flashed by the Magpie. He just barely missed the bird, who escaped by dodging and undulating quickly to escape. It was a marvelous, wonderful chase. One may feel bad about other birds getting consumed, but the predator must eat too. This time, however, the meal escaped – barely. Exciting, Huh?

Sharp-Shinned Hawks have a falcon-like, streamlined body (10-14 inches long) that allows them to maneuver swiftly through the trees. I am always amazed at the speed that this is accomplished! The “Sharp-Shinned” is differentiated from his look-alike cousin “the Cooper’s” by his smaller size and a squared, instead of rounded, end to his tail.

“Sharpies”, as they are often called, can be found in a wide range of woodland and forest types and around urban areas where birds are fed. They usually ambush their prey – swiftly flying from cover to make the attack. If other birds sense a hawk, they will either quickly scatter into the bushes or freeze where they sit, hoping to blend in with their surroundings.

Eggs are incubated for 16 to 23 days and the young fledge at a month of age. The parents will continue to feed them in mid-air, feeding the one who gets there first.

Young “Sharpies” have yellow eyes and a brownish, speckled chest. Their eyes and chest turn reddish as they reach maturity.

(Sitting on a water trough pole in north Heglar Canyon)

(Sitting on a water trough pole in north Heglar Canyon)