Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Friday, September 05, 2008

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk Calling

This morning about 10:30, under a partly cloudy sky, a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk flew to a pine branch on the eastern edge of our yard. It sat there for three or four minutes, then flew across the edge of the woods very low and fast, weaving through the trees, and perched on a low branch just inside the woods where it was in full view, facing in my direction, for about five minutes. I could clearly see its fine, slender, compact shape, rich dark brown head and brown back, and dark brown streaks on a white breast. Its eyes were pale yellow, and it showed a large area of snowy-white under the tail. It turned its head often, looking around, and when it did, very faint streaking showed in the back of the neck.

The best part was that several times it called in a rich, mellow, very distinctive voice, sort of eeee-o. The calls were strong and clear, but were not at all screams. They had a smooth, mewing quality, surprisingly full and expressive – very different from the kek-kek-kek kind of calls I’ve heard from Cooper’s Hawks at other times. Each call was separate and given distinctly – not strung together or fast – but they were repeated several times.

The species accounts I found indicate that an eeeee-o call is given by juveniles begging for food. I didn’t see any adults – but one could easily have been somewhere in the woods nearby. The yellow eye is also mentioned in species accounts as typical of a young bird.

For most of the time as I watched it, the tail of the hawk was hidden by leaves, but finally it turned completely around on the branch so that I got a full back view, and could see the long tail, banded in gray and darker gray-brown, tipped in white and only very slightly rounded. Then the hawk leaned over from the branch and flew, staying close to the ground, across a small grassy clearing in a neighbor’s yard and into the woods again and out of sight.

The Cooper’s Hawk is a woodland raptor, roughly the size of a crow though very different in shape and appearance. Its rounded wings and long tail allow it to fly swiftly through trees in pursuit of smaller birds, rodents and other prey. It’s secretive and relatively seldom-seen, so I always feel lucky to see one – and to hear it call was especially impressive.


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