Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sometimes there's a wildlife adventure in your backyard.

It has been an overcast day here and I let the semi-darkness lull me to sleep this afternoon in the Family Room. When I woke up my black-and-white cat Samantha was chittering with an unusual intensity at something outside the sliding glass doors. I got up in time to see a Cooper's Hawk perched atop my bird feeders. The thought to grab my camera occurred when the nap induced fog lifted from my brain. But as with all things in wildlife, only the fast are rewarded and the slowest are denied. I was too slow and I missed my opportunity. The Hawk lifted and was gone.

The Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium sized bird of prey in the Accipiter family. They inhabit woodlands, parks and even urban areas. Their food of choice is other birds, preferably those that are dove-sized. Their smaller size and wing shape allow them to zip through trees and shrubs to pursue their prey. Once they capture their prey, this Hawk will squeeze it to death, rather than biting to kill, as Falcons often do.

About 30 minutes later I passed through the Family Room and found the Cooper's Hawk in the neighbor's tree in the yard directly behind us. She (I'm calling the Hawk a "She" based on the size. Females raptors are generally bigger than their male counterparts. Of course size is difficult to determine when you cannot compare two of the same birds together side by side) was perched among a handful of Cardinals standing guard.

I was surprised the smaller birds were so close to the Hawk, but reasoned she could not easily reach any of these birds just out of talon's reach. I was also surprised that the activity at my bird feeders resumed, despite the Hawk's presence. But when it's cold and you need to consume as much food as possible to survive, you take your chances. I decided to sit and watch the Hawk. For awhile, she perched comfortably, unmoving and uninterested in her surroundings. But then she began to perk up, looking up at the sentinel Cardinals, surveying the yard before her and then looking back at my feeders.

When the Hawk shifted to face my feeders, some of the birds in my backyard scattered and the Goldfinch still at the finch feeder barely had enough time to escape with his life by the time Cooper's Hawk launched from the tree.

It has been my experience that most people tend to believe the exciting wildlife drama happens outside of suburbia and I was once one of those believers. You may not always witness the excitement of a Cooper's Hawk hunting for food at a bird feeder, but if you pay careful attention to your surroundings, you can see the predator-prey food cycle at work. You may find a Praying Mantis sitting on a flower stalk, waiting to ambush the unsuspecting bee, or find a Harvestman with a dying butterfly in its grasp (True story! I watched this!).

I experience mixed feelings each time I have an encounter with a Cooper's Hawk. The presence of this raptor is usually the demise for some poor songbird, but I can't help but admire their beauty and adaptations for hunting. She was a beautiful bird and I'm grateful she livened up my afternoon.

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