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Cooper’s hawks: Outside-the-box hunters in an ever-changing world

By Gary Bogue
Thursday, December 11th, 2008 at 7:47 am in Cooper's hawk, Hawks, Hunting.

Cooper’s hawk by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Have you ever seen a Cooper’s hawk kill a mourning dove in your backyard?

The hawk usually comes diving out of nowhere to hit the dove with a huge splash of gray feathers. End of hunt.

The Coop either sits there on the ground under your bird feeder, gulping down its mourning meal right under your kitchen window (where it knows you’re watching) … or it flies off with its prey to dine on the limb of a nearby tree.

Cooper’s hawk by Brian Murphy of Walnut Creek, Calif.

Yesterday afternoon I got home from work just in time to watch a Cooper’s hawk employ a clever new hunting technique I’d never seen before.

There’s a big female Coop that lives in the area and raises her chicks every spring in a nest in a large eucalyptus tree just down the back hill from my house. All the small birds in the neighborhood know about this deadly lady and are ever on the lookout for her silhouette.

If one little bird spots this hawk and gives a warning peep … POOF! … there’s not a single bird left on or near my backyard bird feeders. Know what I mean?

They dive into nearby bushes and huddle on the ground, hidden by their camouflage and lack of movement and frozen in space until the all-clear sounds.

Yesterday, that big lady Cooper’s hawk added a new refinement to her considerable hunting techniques: sneakiness.

Both my seed feeders were covered with plump, and I assume tasty white-crowned sparrows, munching away on the fresh supply of seeds I’d just added to the mix.

I spotted a movement on the ground. It was the Cooper’s hawk …tip-toeing along the ground — under the bushes — toward the feeder!

Meanwhile, the sparrows on my feeders were keeping their ever-wary eyes on the sky and the nearby trees, always on the lookout for the Coop and any other predators in the area as they fed.

The hawk quietly arrived on the ground just UNDER the feeder … looked up at the birds above her … her powerful wings half-opened in readiness … and suddenly came roaring up from below at the unsuspecting sparrows!

It was all over in a second. Almost in the blink of my eyes, the big hawk was sitting on the cement patio under the bird feeders — a fat sparrow clenched in each hungry foot.

The Urban Wilderness — your backyard — a new and ever-changing world where even the birds are thinking outside the proverbial box these days in order to survive.

Wow. /Gary

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  1. Gayle Reece Says:

    I marvel at the Cooper’s hawk’s boldness. I had one come down and sit on a laundry basket just outside a plate glass window. She glared inside to watch my terrified cockatiels who were indoors in their cage next to the window. Their chattering undoubtedly called this big girl to investigate. I, of course, went out to urge her to move off the basket and find different hunting grounds. She casually jumped over to a fence ten feet away, obviously reluctant to leave her lunch target. She was not easily discouraged!

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