River Talk column by Liz Hancock
Special to The TIMES
With a crashing sound and a quick burst of speed, a flurry of feathers and the finch feeding on your birdfeeder is no more.
But he is lunch for the daredevil flyer called the Cooper’s hawk.
This agile and beautiful predator bird is one of the goshawk family and was named after the naturalist William Cooper, one of the founding members of the New York Academy of Sciences.
The Cooper’s hawk goes by many names, chicken hawk, striker, swift hawk – to mention a few – and were mercilessly hunted in the past as pest birds.
With it’s steel grey back feathers and black cap, which set off the mottled rust coloured chest feathers and darker bars on its tail against the light, the bird is easily lost in the tangle of branches and leaves of the trees, where it perches, watching, and waiting.
Although they like wooded areas you can often find a Cooper’s hawk nest perched precariously on the front of a tall city building.
They have adapted well to humans and prey on the pigeons and doves who strut their stuff along the sidewalks and sit under the bridges giving the Hawk an ample supply of food to feed its young.
They are also seen more often nesting along the riparian woodlands and in local gardens, in fact a friend of mine has had the rare pleasure of watching a pair of hawks bring up their young at the back of his garden.
He also had set up wood duck nest boxes and has spent much of his time making sure most of the ducklings got away into the stream and didn’t end up in the predator’s nest.
They are quite fearless when it comes to hunting and will fly at breakneck speed through the trees using the act of surprise to catch their prey.
There has been some analysis done on hawk skeletons through the last few years, and it has shown broken bones where the birds have crashed into branches in their effort to catch a meal.
Like many of Mother Nature’s children the Cooper’s hawk has had its share of threats.
In the past, DDT was making it hard for the birds to produce offspring and now it is the gradual loss of habitat that is making things difficult.
But this bird is not to be outdone by us humans and is making a great comeback, by adapting to new surroundings.
Using our gardens and city parks as hunting grounds, as well as the woods and fields of the countryside, it thrives.
– Liz Hancock is a member of the Alouette River Management Society. She is also a writer, artist, environmentalist and teacher of self-sustainable living.
@ Copyright 2013