Birding Notes

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our Winter Cooper’s Hawk

The bold gray swoop of a Cooper’s Hawk always takes me by surprise. Although they’re here year-round, dramatic, impressive raptors that perch and hunt low, they’re secretive and quiet, especially during the warmer, sunnier months. So I always feel lucky to see one now and then.

The past few years though, there’s a certain area in our neighborhood where I often see a Cooper’s Hawk during the late fall and winter. Along this stretch of road, there are large grassy yards with widely-spaced oaks and pecans, lots of shrubs, the woods and creek not far away, and in one yard a big solitary magnolia tree where several times I’ve seen a hawk disappear into its dark, dense foliage at twilight.

So today, I was happy when a Cooper’s Hawk suddenly flew low and close across the road in front of me as I walked past this same area. It was late in the day, cloudy, with muted, fading fall foliage and spots of still-vibrant color – maples glowing a soft rose-red, crape myrtles flaming orange, and the white oak leaves deepening almost to mahogany now.

As I left our yard a few minutes earlier, a Mockingbird was doing its best to chase away smaller birds from the feeders, with limited success. Chickadees, Titmice, a Downy Woodpecker and two House Finches pretty much ignored it or flew to the one where it was not. Brown-headed Nuthatches squeaked in the treetops and Golden-crowned Kinglets called high ti-ti-ti. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet chattered in low branches nearby. A Carolina Wren sang from the woods, and another flew up out of some bushes as I walked past and fussed at me furiously from a safe spot deep inside a wax myrtle.

Still, the prevailing mood was quiet as I walked down the street, with most bird sounds in the distance – Blue Jays, Crows – only muffled traffic, and no leaf blowers, wood chippers, or weed eaters for a change. The light was soft and gray. Yellow-rumped Warblers called chek as they flew from spot to spot. Red-bellied Woodpeckers chuck-chuck-chucked. Five Eastern Bluebirds perched in the bare top branches of some pecan trees, with one American Robin. A small flock of Grackles passed over.

As I came to the bottom of a hill, the Cooper’s Hawk swept low across the road from one yard into another, startling up four or five Mourning Doves that flew away in a whistling flurry of wings, and perched on a limb in the shadows, but in full view and facing toward me - a sleek, smooth gray, with russet-barred breast and long tail with dark and light bands and a rounded band of white on the tip. Rarely have I had such a close and clear view of a Cooper’s Hawk, though it didn’t last long. It flew to another branch and then to another, still in the same yard, among the same stand of trees, but out of my sight.

It’s nice to know that it’s here – again or still – a familiar winter presence.


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