Wednesday, December 17, 2008


An hour ago, before the daylight began to fade and the flat light of an overcast sky started turning the river beyond my work room window into a ribbon of tarnished pewter, I looked out and saw all the birds at the various feeders startle abruptly. A moment later the reason for their sudden flight became obvious when a Cooper’s hawk settled onto a limb of the front yard box elder. 

It was the first time I’d seen the Cooper’s since the weather had taken its wintry turn…though not the first evidence I’d had of its presence.  

Yesterday, when I went out to fill the basket feeders with sunflower seeds and scatter a scoop or two of cracked corn onto the ground, I saw a small pile of feathers beside the box elder’s trunk. I believe the feathers came from a nuthatch, of which there are always at least one or two hanging around. In addition to the handful of feathers, there were also a few drops of blood on the new-fallen snow. Obviously, something had killed and eaten a bird—probably a foraging nuthatch—on the spot. I figured the predator in question was either a hawk or an owl, since both are fairly common here along the river. When the Cooper’s hawk landed in the tree this afternoon and began scanning around like a caf√© patron checking out wall menus, I had little doubt I was looking at the prime suspect. 

I had a couple of Cooper’s hawks working my feeder birds last winter. And at least one the year before—the first winter after we’d moved into this streamside cottage. For a while I was outraged and set about protecting “my” feeder visitors. Then the absurdity of such an attitude struck me: was I going to pick and choose the species I fed? Did some birds deserve to eat while others starved? Was there a moral issue here, or just prejudice?

In the end, I opted to let the hawks be hawks. Which, I must add, wasn’t a death warrant on my feeder birds. More often than not—by a ratio of perhaps 20-to-1— the Cooper’s hawk usually struck out. Usually…

Hey, a hawk has to eat, too.

This time around, seeing as how any potential meal ticket had already flown away, the hawk could do nothing more except look around for a few seconds and then head off to where the pickin's might prove more profitable. Perhaps a neighbor's feeder? 

Anyway, I did manage a quick—though not very good—photo of this afternoon’s visiting Cooper’s.


forest wisdom said...

Love to see a Coopers Hawk. You're a blessed man to live where you do. Thanks for sharing it with us.

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

They are indeed magnificent birds…though the smaller birds, who are potential meals, doubtless view them as winged death.

I'll write more about the Cooper's in an upcoming entry.

nina said...

Yes, a hawk has to eat, too.
And, although it always seems harsh to think of a predator's talons or hooked bill ripping into the fluffy little feeder birds, their way is purely of satisfying real hunger.
What magnificent hunters. Their faces are awesome.
Nice to have a chance to see them so close to your home.

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

You're right, of course. The predator/prey relationship of wild creatures should never be viewed through Disney-influenced eyes.

Last winter, a Cooper's or two made daily visits, sometimes stopping by for a quick look-see every couple of hours; at other times spending 30-40 minutes on a limb with a good overview of the yard. This usually put them no more than 25 feet from the cottage…but on at least three occasions, a hawk crouched briefly on the main room's stone window ledge—giving me a view from literally inches away.

MicheleRF said...

I've just recently had a very similar experience at my feeders. Yes, everyone must eat...and so continues the great chain of being.

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

MicheleRF: Around here, Cooper's hawks are pretty common feeder visitors. I get calls regularly from folks appalled at the savage vision of a Cooper's hawk snatching a cardinal or chickadee from their backyard feeder and then being so uncouth as to rip a tasty bit off and consume it with gusto while they watch.

Hawks, I think, make you decide whether you're a serious birdwatcher/birdfeeder or simply a dilettante.

giggles said...

First visit-came via Natureremains... I'm new to the blogging world,and grew up in doubt I'll be reading here frequently!

A shame if it was a nuthatch... I love those beauties!

About 11 years ago, summer, when we had just finished off an addition to our house (up and out) and had just brought home our first child, my husband was mowing our lawn and came rushing in saying I had to come see.... Found a hawk, either an immature Cooper or sharpy, (not sure and not an expert!) that I think didn't negotiate the new structural additions.... Not a mark on it; I think it just broke it's neck...heartbreaking.... I didn't know what to do with it, so we just buried it somewhere in the backyard....

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

Hey, Giggles:

Glad you liked the blog on the Cooper's. It was also a shame about the one you found years ago—though it happens. I've found hawks of all sorts and any number of owls beside roads, buildings, and under various wires. Plain and simple, manmade structures kill a lot of birds.

I'm new to blogging myself. I did appreciate the fact that on your blog you said you not only liked books, but actually READ books. As an inveterate reader myself, I well understand the difference.

Anyway, welcome to blogging…and come back anytime. Don't know where you live now, but I can tell you I was in Cincy yesterday doing some shopping and it was brutally cold—6 degrees and 40 mph winds!