Birding Notes

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gray Shadow of a Bird – A Cooper’s Hawk

Today was another cloudy, gray day – damp, barely cool, and generally gloomy. Around mid-morning, several small birds foraged in the front yard around the feeders and bushes, the usual suspects – White-throated Sparrows, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Titmice, Chickadees, and four Carolina Wrens singing nearby in the woods. One Eastern Towhee foraged in the mulch under the wax myrtles, and I was unreasonably happy to see it – bright black, white and rust-red in the shadow of the shrubs – because, as common as they used to be, we haven’t had Towhees around much at all recently, and I’ve missed them.

Much later this afternoon – still gray and cloudy, not long before sundown – few birds were active when I went out for a short walk, except for small flocks of Cedar Waxwings perched in bare branches, or calling as they flew over. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker mewed from somewhere in the woods, and a lone Yellow-rumped Warbler called chek! as it flew from tree to tree.

But not far down the street, a Cooper’s Hawk perched silently in the bare limbs of a pecan tree, facing directly toward me in perfect view, showing its soft, red-barred breast and the gray of its dark head, which turned from side to side, and the long, rounded tail with rather wide bands of dark and light gray. From the front view, its shoulders formed smooth gray rounds against the reddish-orange breast.

After four or five minutes, it spread its wings and flew downward, gliding with wings outspread very low over the pale brown grass of two yards, its smoke-gray back and wings like the shadow of a bird – then it swooped up and into the dark-green depths of a tall, dense magnolia tree. This is the same tree where I’ve seen a Cooper’s Hawk disappear about this time of day and this time of year in


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