The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium sized raptor of brushy areas and open woodlands, common across the Continental United States. Half a century ago, they were much less common, one of the many victims of DDT pesticide use.
Last summer a pair nested somewhere near our property, and raised two chicks to adulthood. This spring they returned, and while I haven’t seen any fledgelings yet, I’m fairly certain they have a nest somewhere close.
While the songbirds in our yard are wary when they come to the birdbath or peck in the grass, having a raptor around won’t scare them away for good (contrary to suburban myth). Having adequate cover and habitat, the songbirds behave as they normally would in a natural environment which contains predators.
Though they will prey upon small rodents, the Coopers Hawk is known for mostly being a bird-hunter. They are quick and agile, and can streak through trees at high speed in pursuit of their prey. Medium-sized birds are their preferred food: robins, starlings, doves, even chickens from what I’ve read. I suspect the Cooper’s Hawk is one of the raptors my grandparents were talking about when cursing the “damned Chicken Hawks!”
Earlier this summer I witnessed a dramatic scene. My boyfriend and I were sitting on the patio one evening, when suddenly one of the hawks flew fast and low over the yard, a robin clutched in her claws. A screaming horde of robins (along with a few stray cardinals) pursued the hawk. Shrieking and diving at it, some actually landing on it’s back briefly as it flew, to peck at it with their strong beaks. The hawk was undeterred, and landed in the branch of a big Bald Cypress in the neighbor’s yard, plucking and tearing at it’s dinner while the dead robin’s fellows perched in branches all around, crying of the incident to any within earshot: “There is a Hawk here! He has killed one of us! Beware! The killer is here, here!”
The coopers hawks will come to the birdbath, too, and splash and preen just like a smaller bird. Of course, this results in the bath being almost completely devoid of water after the hawk is done splashing about. I’ve watched them bathe through the picture window, but I must remain absolutely still while observing them, since the slightest movement will send them flying off without hesitation.
I like having these graceful, fierce birds around. How fortunate I am for my many opportunities to observe wild creatures right outside my own home! They exact a price in robins and other favorite songbirds, but that’s the way of nature – we can’t have just the one thing or the other. The hawk and the songbird are both parts of a whole, equally deserving of respect.