Sharp-shinned hawk stalking towhees, sparrows and quail from back of boat trailer. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
… at Del Valle Reservoir in the Livermore area … I witnessed something I had never seen before. A sharpie (sharp-shinned hawk) lands on a boat trailer (above) and watches the towhees, sparrows and quail running beneath the brush. Then this bird who is built to fly through branches and catch its prey on the wing, gets so impatient it lands on the ground and walks into the brush after them. He made the mistake of entering “their world” and after much commotion, the sharpie flew out frustrated and returned empty handed to the treetops. Dave Harper, Oakley, California
Sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawks, both accipiters (members of the family Accipitridae), are like that. They get so focused on taking their prey, they forget everything else, including the right and wrong way to do things. One time I was standing in an oak woodland area watching a ground squirrel digging a hole to bury an acorn. A Cooper’s hawk, which had been sitting on a branch above and slightly behind me, and apparently was so focused on the squirrel it didn’t even see me, came diving in to grab the squirrel. It was so low, it brushed the top of my head!
Another time, I saw a Cooper’s hawk try to follow a ground squirrel it had been chasing down its hole. That was definitely entering “their world.” Crazy birds. They never give up! /Gary
Immature Cooper’s hawk. Photo by Joanne Smith, Union City, CA
Thought you would enjoy this shot of a juvenile Cooper’s hawk who occasionally visits my yard in Union City. His name is Gary, too. The Dread Squirrel Roberta is not the least bit afraid of him, stares him down, shakes her tail and then does acrobatic dining on the seed block while he watches. He was here four times yesterday, knew there were little birds hiding in the neighbor’s honeysuckle but never managed to get one. Joanne Smith, Union City, California
Gary Cooper, eh? Great photo. Beautiful bird. Your squirrel obviously knows this is an immature Cooper’s hawk and not quite up on its hunting techniques, yet, otherwise she wouldn’t risk staring the hawk down.
Those “little birds” you mention, are always on the lookout for hawk predators and can disappear in a nanosecond by diving into nearby bushes. If you are watching songbirds at your backyard bird feeder, blink your eyes and suddenly those little birds are gone … look around for the Cooper’s hawk. It will be sitting nearby. The ability of those little birds to almost instantly disappear is called … “survival.” /Gary
Cooper’s hawk tries to chase fake plastic hawk out of its territory. Photo by Phil Grover, Concord, CA
Our neighbors put up a hawk decoy to keep ducks out of their swimming pool. It has been there for some time. Recently we witnessed a young Cooper’s hawk (we think, you tell us) trying to drive the fake hawk out of the neighborhood. Well, that is our guess at its motivation. It seemed quite agitated and was making a lot of noise as well as flying many times at the decoy. It gave up after about 20 minutes, a long time in our estimation. Phil and Sue Grover, Concord, California
Phil & Sue:
It’s an adult Cooper’s hawk. Because of it’s size, probably a male (females are a bit larger). That’s pretty funny. It appears to perceive the fake hawk as an intruder on its turf. Is the decoy just as effective at keeping ducks out of your neighbor’s pool?
These decoys seem to have limited effectiveness if simply plunked down in one spot and left there. After a time, the birds in the area tend to get used to the decoy, realize it is doing nothing and forget about it. You need to move them around every day or so to make them seem more alive. You might pass that bit of info along to your neighbors. /Gary
Cooper’s hawk gets aggressive with fake plastic hawk. Photo by Phil Grover, Concord, CA
Cooper’s hawk feeds on bird. Photo by Michelle Foy, Pleasanton, CA
I was sitting in my family room at home (near the foothills in Pleasanton) working on taxes this afternoon, when a saw a flurry of activity and what turned out to be a cloud of feathers out the window. I went out in the backyard to see what the commotion was, and I saw what I believe was a Cooper’s Hawk on top of the fence with his prey. I went back in and got my camera and proceeded to watch him de-feather and eviscerate what I fear may have been a baby bird. He didn’t seemed concerned that I was standing there and I was, for once, finally able to get the great backyard wildlife photo I was trying for. Eventually he flew off with what remained of his prey. It was a cool moment, although I still felt bad for the victim! Michelle Foy, Pleasanton, California
We can always feel bad for the “victim,” but that’s how life works in the great outdoors. Everything has to eat something else in order to survive. The hawk eats the bird that eats the bugs that eat the grass … ad infinitum. And the turkey vultures and the dermestid beetles are always standing around in the wings, waiting to pick up the pieces. Life goes on. /Gary
Cooper’s hawk feeds on pigeon in Oakland, CA, backyard. (Erich Hayner, Oakland, CA)
This is a picture of my backyard Cooper’s hawk with his dinner (we have lots of pigeons). I’d spent all day at hawk hill scouring the skies for raptors with no luck. As I drove up my driveway, this guy popped down and made his kill right before my eyes (a first). Just goes to show, nature is everywhere! Erich Hayner, Oakland, California
There’s so much “nature” going on in our backyards, I now call our backyards … “The Urban Wilderness.” /Gary
Cooper’s hawk sits on the fence, checking out sparrows feeding at a nearby bird feeder. Photo by Lloyd Garbutt, Livermore, CA.
I have a Cooper Hawk which visits every once in a while in my backyard and I managed to watch him for some time trying to flush out some sparrows from the bushes below my bird feeder. Attached are some photographs which I took. Lloyd Garbutt, Livermore, CA
Cooper’s hawks, being bird-eaters, always try to take advantage of bird feeders by preying on the little birds that are attracted to the feeders.
Because of this, the sparrows, doves, finches and other birds that use the feeders have to continually be on the alert for these aggressive hawks. Otherwise, it’s bye-bye-baby. Read the rest of this entry »
Female Cooper’s hawk eating a crow. Photo by Bob Luis, Brentwood, Calif.
I’ve been getting a lot of mail about crows in my column these days. Backyards are full of those big, black noisy birds. Most frequently asked question is, “What are we going to do with all these crows?”
Bob Luis of Brentwood, California, dropped me a note the other day, containing the above photo. Here’s what he had to say: Read the rest of this entry »
In my last entry I wrote about a Cooper’s hawk in my backyard that used a sneaky, outside-the-box hunting technique to catch a sparrow on my bird feeder. Talk about small worlds! Here’s a video I just discovered of a Cooper’s hawk on a similar sneaky hunt, poking around on a patio until it gets a chance to fly up and grab a sparrow on a feeder from below!
This video was taken by YouTube user omniscientomar and used here under a Creative Commons license. He was feeding his 1-year-old kid (background sounds) while he took it.