Tag Archives: Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Four score and four months ago

Seven years ago today I began a wee experiment: this blog.  My capricious tendencies have seen it through many incarnations.  It has traveled across domains and has lived and died on multiple platforms and multiple servers.  Historically I gave it a face lift almost as often as I posted.  Yet through all of that, 84 months have passed since it came to life in 2003—and it’s still here.

Through this online journal I have met many fantastic people.  It has gifted me with new friends and it has helped me find a community of like-minded individuals.

Blogging also has given me a chance to exercise my writing and my photography.

But why did I start?  More importantly, why do I still do it today?  Instead of trying to answer those questions anew, let me republish something I wrote last November, something that perhaps was meant more for this anniversary than it was the random writ it seemed to be at the time.  Hereafter is The journal is the thing, only this time I will augment it with images of my favorite kind of creature: raptors.

* * * * * * * * * *

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) flying overhead (2009_12_13_044565)

Should I waste that which spills from my soul?  Should I dispose of haphazardly the many tellings which spring forth from cluttered and uncluttered thought alike?  Such writs take shape with ease, gleaning from life’s treasures the simple and complex notions that wind their ways through labyrinths of ideas until finally taking shape in the guise of pedestrian words.  Dare I forsake such a thing?

I am but a tool in the hands of creativity.  A lithe bit of sandpaper destined to remove sharp edges from nature’s display.  A rigid scythe meant to clear a path through grasslands too overgrown to be enjoyed by the masses.  A sturdy bridge meant to convey observers across imagination’s mire.  And a supple cloth to dry the sweat from a hard day’s work.  These things am I…  And more.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire holding prey (2009_11_28_042860)

Green pastures stretch out before me like maidens lying in wait for gentleman callers.  Hills rise like breasts from an earthen mother, and shores stretch like her lips around warm waters.  Trees sway in the breeze like dapple braids of hair touched by loving hands.  If indeed life is anything more than existing, it is a consummation, a marriage betwixt what is and what can be.  I fear ever denying the embrace of this seductress.

In the tiniest of things I find inspiration; in the notation of them I find being.

A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) hiding in a tree (2009_12_20_046363)

I reap from fields sown of the universe’s seed.  What comes from me, then, is the simplest interpretation of the greatest mysteries.  To find magic in a single leaf hanging above my head while I travel paths ancient and new…  To bend a twig and find upon it the hopes of a timeless soul wrapped in winter’s slumber…  To stand by the riverside and hear sweet whispers from the commotion that hides beneath its still surface…  Ah, to live in the now, in such a wondrous place, and to never wish to lift a pen so that I might complete the journey that I began…  Blasphemy, it is.  I would rather die.

Why toil with clumsy language?  It remains clumsy only in the hands of those unlearned in its use, uneducated to its robust expression, and unfamiliar with its mystic secrets.  Nay, the journal is the thing in which I conceal and through which I perform.  Find within its borders the vellum of life, a papyrus upon which I paint in fine and broad strokes of words every bit of me, and every bit of the world where I reside.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046514)

Catharsis barely scratches the surface of why I blog; expression even less.

I find everywhere the riddles begging to be solved, the confidences left openly where none shall see them only to be discovered by those truly looking.  By the rhythm of the sentence and the cadence of the photograph do I reveal such things as much to myself as to others.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched on a limb (2010_01_12_048405)

For decades have I reveled in the joy of the journal.  For almost a decade has that joy found new life in blogging.  The universe opens her dress for me, welcomes me to her bosom, holds me close as I ponder the magnificence of her being.

Never could I give it up.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) flying overhead (2010_01_24_049071)

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

[2] American kestrel (Falco sparverius); male

[3] Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)

[4] Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

[5] Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus); female

[6] Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii); female


I see her perched in bright morning sunshine, so I step from the trail and approach.  She looks at me, a direct gaze measuring the man who invades her space.  At no time do I fool myself by thinking the raptor is unaware of me.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) staring at me from her perch (2009_10_24_033420)

In a show of forbearance much unlike what one expects, she goes back to preening and surveying the area, an interesting combination of morning bath and morning hunt wrapped up in a single perch.  Noisy and clumsy as I stumble through waist-high grass and wildflowers with unsure footing knocking me off balance, she allows me to come close with only a few glances in my direction, an act of patience and tolerance that would shock many.  But this is no ordinary Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and I am no casual visitor to her realm.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking intently at possible prey (2009_10_24_033487)

Even as I stand within a stone’s throw of her location, she does not respond.  One could say she ignores me, but it’s more than that, it’s less than that, it’s different from that.  She no more ignores me than we ignore a barking dog running toward us.  The difference is she knows me and she knows I’m no threat, the same as if we stood watching that barking dog with full knowledge that it would leap upon us, shower us with licks and nuzzles, pounce on us with all the adoration of a lifelong companion.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) glancing to her side (2009_10_24_033498)

She looks beyond me, watches the passing joggers and cyclists who enjoy their early exercise.  Occasionally she issues a warning call to any who slow and look, who appear to impose upon our encounter.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) calling a warning to a nearby jogger (2009_10_24_033500)

Even still, I move closer, lean against the tree in which she perches, stand within easy reach of her with but a simple hop.  Nevertheless, she remains unflinching, unafraid, unworried.  We go way back, she and I.  Accipiters are exceptionally high-strung: her mate, who I have also known for many years, tolerates me being within eyesight of him yet becomes edgy when I approach; on the other hand, she demonstrates an unreal comfort with me, allowing me to approach to within a few steps, even letting me hunker down beneath her perch where I am close enough to touch her with the camera lens (something I would never do, mind you).

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking intently at possible prey (2009_10_24_033511)

I have watched her raise young each year for almost ten years, and I have lived in her territory for all that time and have focused heavily on wiggling into her world as much as she and her man will allow.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking into the bright morning (2009_10_24_033541)

Her public name is Baket after the Egyptian hawk-goddess.  I use a different name when I’m around her, alone in her presence, one I repeat constantly so she identifies it as coming only from me.  She no doubt recognizes me in ways I can’t comprehend, but speaking to her and sharing a private moniker at least makes me feel like I’m doing my part to reinforce the trust she shows.

And trust it is.  While I’d like to say we share some measure of camaraderie—dare I say friendship?—I won’t insult our interactions with senseless anthropomorphisms.  What she thinks of me will never be known.  That she trusts me goes without challenge, however, and that is a trust based not on feeding and baiting and other manipulative actions but instead on years spent together, and time spent together, and slow and thoughtful approaches shared, and conversations only we know, and spaces only we occupied.

It can bring me to tears being in her presence, being so near, having her look at me without fear no matter how close I get.  Of all the souls I have encountered in nature, hers is the one most tightly intertwined with my own.

But lest you think our relationship one of profound interspecific relevance, let me show you that we still have our moments of disagreement.

She pauses to scratch an itch on her head.  I meanwhile ramble on ad nauseam about the weather or how nice her plumage looks today or why I feel such disappointment in her mate’s continued avoidance of me.  When I notice the sudden foot-in-the-air motion, however, I stop long enough to snap a quick photo.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) scratching her head (2009_10_24_033525)

And when she hears the shutter click, she slams her foot down on its ligneous perch and stares at me with a gaze that can only be described as one of consternation and upset.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking at me with consternation (2009_10_24_033526)

While she might allow a captivating level of understanding between us, she obviously has no intention of allowing me to show her in anything less than a dignified light.  Believe me when I say I got the message loud and clear.

No, I’m not Doctor Dolittle—that’s my mom—but I did learn from the best.  It has taken me nearly ten years to earn this hawk’s trust.  For Christmas 2009, it’s the best gift I could ever receive.

Who remains?

I spent my summer getting to know and growing fond of the Cooper’s hawk triplets born and raised around my home.  Their antics and constant company allowed me the opportunity to know each of them, to know their personalities and to recognize them with ease.  And the many months we shared had me feeling like a surrogate parent: always watching, always monitoring, always worried that a day would come when I might not see at least one of them.

Yes, my fear in October centered on the inevitable: saying goodbye when the youngsters eventually moved on.  After all, this territory belongs to their parents, two capable and comfortable adults who live here all year.  In the company of red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, American kestrels, black and turkey vultures, and a horde of other avian predators living at or visiting White Rock Lake, I felt certain the triplets would be forced to move on no later than spring.

This past Friday I realized it had been a few days since last I saw one of the juveniles.  Though I had no guarantee of seeing all three of them every day, I did have a guarantee of seeing at least one of them every day, if not two of them.  Hence a few days without seeing one could only mean they migrated for autumn, many months earlier than I had hoped.  In less than a week the area had become empty in a way, a home with all the children gone.  I took some comfort in the presence of the parents.

Adult Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched in a tree (2009_10_24_033537)

They won’t leave.  They never leave.  As accipiters go, the lake belongs to them.  So long as the adults remain, I thought, I might have a new bundle of juveniles to watch next year.  And the adults know me.  When I approached the female for some photos, she glanced at me a few times without worry.  In bright morning sunshine she preened, scanned the meadows, enjoyed the comfortable weather.  What she didn’t do was flee, even when I stumbled around beneath the tree in which she sat, sometimes standing so close beneath her that I could have touched her with the camera lens.  Despite the ongoing companionship of mother and father, however, realizing the triplets probably were gone forever left a chasm in the world.  I found I missed Trouble the most.

Juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) standing on a fence (2009_10_12_031544)

What antics!  What a mischievous, meddlesome, monstrous little devil!  What an entertaining neighbor!  Never before had I seen crows so happy to leave a hawk behind.  Never before had I seen a raptor so intent on causing mayhem in the local wildlife population.  Somehow Trouble had reached me more deeply than the other two.  Though I cherished and adored each of them, Trouble had become my undeniable favorite, the young one who I hoped beyond hope would stay behind when the others left.

Standing on my patio searching the sky for any sight or sound that would indicate the presence of one of the triplets, I found at nightfall that I came up empty.  I thought with all three gone I would never see them again.  But perchance there was hope someone else would get to know them, get to see the personalities I had come to recognize with ease.  Maybe, I figured, just maybe they each would settle where another appreciative soul would take notice, would take over my surrogate parenting, would stand watch each day to see one of these magical beasts fly across the sky.

A few days later I returned home after a brief absence.  I spent an hour or two greeting The Kids, letting them welcome me home.  After settling in a bit, I stepped outside to take stock of the world.  Immediately my eyes were drawn to something on a distant balcony, something noticeable, something familiar.

Juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a balcony railing (2009_11_07_037567)

Could it be one of the triplets?  Certainly this had been their territory, most notably Trouble’s, and use of the buildings and flora in the immediate area had been that delightful creature’s domain, its purview for causing chaos.  With afternoon sunlight in my face and the bird perched in shadow, only the longest lens on my camera gave me a look at this juvenile Cooper’s hawk.  And in that near yet far off glimpse, I recognized it.

Juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a balcony railing (2009_11_07_037581)

Of all the triplets to remain behind when the others left, Trouble had chosen to stay at the lake.  My heart raced like a parent seeing a child returning from a year away at college.  And it had only been several days.  How silly of me to experience such relief.  Or maybe not so silly.  These children had a place in my heart even before they were eggs in the nest, when their parents set about starting a family early this year.  Because they nested so close to my home, I watched their progress with enthusiasm and joy.  Then came bringing food to the nest.  And finally the triplets appeared.

Juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a balcony railing (2009_11_07_037589)

So wouldn’t I be overjoyed to see one of them had remained when the other two had gone to begin lives elsewhere?  I couldn’t think of a reason not to be thrilled.  That it was Trouble who stayed…  Icing on the cake!  Even as I watched the bird repeatedly poking its feathered stick into the wildlife anthill, an uncontrollable smile took hold of my face.  This winter had taken on new life, a new warmth.  There still remained a chance that one of the triplets would be around until spring.

A few days after I watched Trouble create havoc from that balcony, I again went to the patio to watch the joyous deluge of creatures who gift me each time I step outside.  I already had accepted that I would probably see the hawk every few days.  Nevertheless, that was better than not seeing any of them again.  So I leaned against the fence with the tree gracing me with its shadow as the afternoon sun bathed the world in warmth.  And I watched.

Several minutes passed without any sign of Trouble.  But I knew the bird was around, was somewhere in the area.  Nothing stirred.  No birds sang or flew, no squirrels ran around or barked from nearby trees, no wildlife moved.  Out there, just beyond the patio fence, hiding in that devilish way it loves to do, I knew Trouble was around.

Then suddenly a flash of brown feathers erupted from shrubs across the way, a flash of streaked breast and belly, yellow eyes glaring into the air.  The hawk exploded from the bushes and flew at full speed, all manner of birds scattering in its wake.  I watched in awe: Trouble was flying right at me, right at eye level, right toward the tree behind which I stood.

In the briefest of moments, a spot of time measured in less than a second, the young Cooper’s hawk covered a distance of 30 yards/meters and landed on a branch right in front of me.  I could have reached out and touched its beak.  My breath locked in my chest, my eyes dared not blink, my heart slammed like a madman with a drum…  For what seemed an eternity, a whole universe measured in the eyes of a raptor staring into my own, Trouble and I faced each other, measured each other in a way visible only through the soul’s windows.  With less than an arm’s length separating us, neither of us flinched.

[all photos of Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii): the first is an adult, the rest are a juvenile]

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)]

— — — — — — — — — —

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!