Keeping my eyes on the triplets

Back in July I introduced the Cooper’s hawk triplets who live around my home.  Some part of me feels like a surrogate parent as back then I took a sincere interest in their welfare.  I’d known them since before they were eggs in the nest, having watched their parents breed, then brood and rear young.

These past months I’ve kept a close eye on the kids, though that’s not difficult since I see them every day.  They are my neighbors, living just a few steps from my front door.  I can always find them, whether it’s going out to my patio or walking to the lake, and I know where they like to spend their idle time.

Each seems to have a distinct personality.

One, the individual I originally named Scruffy for its disheveled appearance, remains the clumsy child, the dirty family secret hidden in the basement.  Oh, the juvenile certainly eats well and lives comfortably, but I feel the synapses might not be firing on all cylinders for this one.  Its hunting technique generally reminds me of the shotgun approach: throw yourself at every opportunity—and I mean literally throw yourself at it—and eventually you’re apt to land on a tasty morsel or two.  No wonder Scruffy was dripping wet during our last photo session.

The second I’ve named Silence.  Meek and quiet and leery of the spotlight, this one does not make appearances all that often.  Once in a while I see or hear it, but mostly these encounters are brief, glimpses of a figure dashing into thick woodlands or hearing a quick call from the treetops.  Again, the bird seems perfectly healthy; it just doesn’t seem to like attention.

And then there’s the third, this bird who spent a great deal of time yesterday right outside my patio:

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) standing on a fence staring at me (2009_10_12_031517)

Meet the hawk I’ve named Trouble.  And believe me when I say the name fits.  This is the youngster who not only takes no crap from anyone, not even the crows, but this predator dishes out all manner of mayhem.

When it makes an appearance and the crows spot it, of course the corvids mob the accipiter as one might expect.  But that only lasts for a minute or two at best.  It takes that long for Trouble to grow weary of the game and turn the tables on the crows.  It then becomes the hawk mobbing the mob.

Trouble chases the crows, pestering and molesting them, until finally the birds escape to a nearby tree.  Ah, but the hawk isn’t finished yet.  This is certainly a case of don’t dish out what you’re not willing to take.

The hawk follows the crows into the trees, then the fun begins.  Trouble bounces from limb to limb trying to get close to the crows.  An avian shuffle takes place as the crows move about trying to avoid the hassle.  The hawk naturally moves on to the next nearest crow.  The cacophony of crow complaints grows with each passing moment.  When the crows whisk themselves to a nearby tree, Trouble follows.

Eventually it’s the corvids who flee into the sky.  They leave Trouble behind, figuratively and literally.  It’s no doubt the most hysterical thing I’ve seen in this normal interaction.  And once the pesky crows leave the scene, Trouble goes on with a suddenly quiet day: preen, hunt, or just enjoy the newfound peace.

Keep in mind crows aren’t small and Cooper’s hawks aren’t large, so there’s hardly a chance Trouble thinks itself capable of taking a crow as prey, especially when a handful or more of the corvids are involved.  No, this is not hunting; plain and simple, it’s harassment, giving back to the crows what they so willingly give to others.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Trouble seems to really enjoy bothering all the critters it can find.  Like yesterday: I stepped out to the patio and nearly fell back on my butt when this very close mass of feathers and muscle exploded from the photinia bushes.  I not only stumbled back while trying to get a look at the visitor, but I also became immediately aware of how quiet it was.  No birds singing, no birds flitting about.  The area was dead quiet and dead still.

Trouble landed on the ground not far from where I stood.  It looked around while keeping a close eye on me.  I played like a stone.  That’s when it became clear which of the triplets I was dealing with: the hawk immediately flew into some nearby bushes, an action which sent the sparrows and blue jays and mockingbirds into panic, right along with the squirrels and a host of other bird species who’d been hiding nearby.

The hawk sat quietly in the shrubs.  It didn’t chase anything even though plenty of birds had exploded outward and landed in nearby trees where they could easily be seen.

Over the course of the next hour or two, I watched Trouble as it chased birds, made intentional dashes to scare up everything in hiding, flew about the area causing mayhem, and ultimately passed on every opportunity to catch food.  This is the Trouble I know well: a capable and keen predator who finds satisfaction in scaring the bejeesus out of everything that moves.

For example: Trouble was standing on the fence near my garage.  Sparrows, mockingbirds, blue jays, starlings, cardinals and a legion vast of other birds hid in all the nearby trees.  Several times I saw the hawk pull off this maneuver without giving chase to any of the birds fleeing in its path.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) running a long a fence (2009_10_12_031531)

It would run along the fence…

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) spreading its wings to help it stop as it runs along a fence (2009_10_12_031532)

Then it would spread its wings to help it make an abrupt stop…

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) standing on a fence (2009_10_12_031533)

Then Trouble would stand and watch frightened animals spread in every direction.  And it did this several times, though not once did the hawk try to capture anything, an act that would have been simple in such close quarters with all the available options looking like a dense cloud of food billowing outward.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) standing on a fence (2009_10_12_031550)

The hawk swept back and forth over the area, perched in trees, hid in bushes, stood on the ground and on fences, and pretty much made as much mischief as it could.  I laughed so much at the antics.  Trouble seemed intent on causing fear and scattering animals in every direction, yet I never got the impression this was a hunt, not with all the ignored opportunities to take easy prey.  No, this was sport, pure and simple, a child poking a stick in the anthill just because it wanted to see the destruction it could cause.

Though I can’t say how long all three triplets will stay in the area, I can say watching them thus far has been a true delight and learning their personalities has given me a new insight into the young age at which each creature takes on its own traits.

[all photos of a juvenile Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)]

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Don’t miss following autumn’s avian wonders with I and the Bird #111: South With the Fall.  You’ll enjoy the trip, I assure you!

4 thoughts on “Keeping my eyes on the triplets”

  1. How wonderful to have watched them long enough to distinguish individuals and their personalities! The photos are brilliant and the write-up quite entertaining. Great job — and lucky birds, really, to be honored like this!

    1. Thank you, Jain! It’s been a true pleasure watching these hawks grow up and develop into such recognizable individuals. I know by next spring they’ll have to move out of their parents’ home and find their own territories, so I’m starting to feel like a father preparing to send his kids off to college…

  2. Delightful read. It’s wonderful to be able to observe and get to know a species like this in such detail. I’m envious of your photographs. The colors and details are stunning. I especially like the one of Trouble with foot stretched out.

    1. Thanks, Liz! I’m glad you liked it. Even on a dark, cloudy, drizzly day, being that close to Trouble made it easy to get photos that were at least presentable.

      And I wholeheartedly agree: I’m enriched from and better for my experience with the hawks, from my ability to know them as more than a group but instead to be exposed to them so much that they became recognizable individuals. In truth, what I fear most is having to let them go when it’s time for them to move on.

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