Dinner

Sitting in my new, husband-made Adirondack chairs, I mulled needed changes to the back garden. As I gazed outward toward the targeted area, considering what needs to go, what needs to stay, and what replacements are best, or desired, I glanced to my left, up and over my privacy fence, to my back neighbor’s mostly dead Arizona Ash. The poor ash might be dead, but it regularly hosts plenty of life, including this gorgeous, immature Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, who was enjoying dinner.

(Just a warning: there’s a slightly gross photo coming, not too bad, but if you’re squeamish, you might want to move on to some other reading.)

I watched this magnificent bird for about an hour, by far the longest period of time I’ve ever observed a hawk. I’ve seen this hawk plenty of times, swooping through the trees and gliding over the neighborhood in search of prey, but it’s a rare treat to watch a raptor for such a long time, relatively up close and personal, and not startle it away. A few years ago–in the Before Times–I spent some time observing a hawk in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, dining on some of SF’s finest. That was bird nerd entertainment, but this observation of the Cooper’s Hawk’s meal time, comfortably in my own garden, was fascinating and revealing. As the hawk pulled and stretched its meal, I could hear the slight snap of skin and sinew. As it plucked its prey, feathers, big and small, sleek and fluffy, floated down, probably settling in the neighbor’s pool. I imagine those feathers are still floating. During the meal, some small, downy feathers attached to the hawk’s sharp beak–as in the first photo. The hawk didn’t mind the bit of fluff as it ate.

The hawk was focused on this meal, hungry no doubt. I’m sure its hunting isn’t always successful; I’ve seen it swoop through the neighborhood trees, scattering birds, but flying off empty-taloned. This time, the hawk was victorious; the poor White-winged dove a victim of the hawk’s hunger and hunting prowess.

At one point, something startled the hawk and it mantled over the meal, keeping a keen eye out for someone intent on stealing. I didn’t see anything that would threaten dinner, and within a minute or so, Hawk was back at it: pulling, eating. Later, a group of noisy Blue Jays voiced disapproval of the hawk’s activity, but none ventured too close and kept a respectful distance while Hawk continued its meal, undisturbed and unimpressed with the Jays’ cawing. The Jays flew off in a huff.

Such a beautiful hawk. As it matures, the streaking on the chest and tummy will become more of a red and white checker-board pattern. Its wings and back feathers will turn slate grey. The hawk’s eye color will morph from its current golden to burnt orange. Cooper’s Hawks dine mainly on birds, but I’ve seen one with a squirrel, and I’m sure when hapless rat comes within catching range, they eat them, too. Raptors eat what they can catch. Cooper’s Hawks are common in urban settings and have adapted well thanks to the number of people who feed birds; there are plenty of birds to pick from, especially fat doves!

While I watched Hawk, someone else was at dinner, too. This juvenile or female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri worked the flowers of nearby Turks’ cap. As it’s early October, most of the males have migrated, but I’m still enjoying the zooming, chirping, and chasing of the females and juveniles. They’ll be gone soon too, headed south to Mexico and Central America.

Just as I acknowledged my own rumbly in my tumbly, being ready for dinner, Hawk flew off, the remains of his catch firmly in talon, ready to settle in for the evening with snack for later.

26 thoughts on “Dinner

  1. Amazing captures and wonderful observations! We regularly get Cooper’s hawks (and a couple other types) here, too, but I’ve never gotten such close and clear photos. Bravo! The hummer capture is great, too!

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  2. Great photos of a beautiful raptor, what a magnificent specimen! How lucky to be able to watch it devour its prey for awhile. And awesome pic of the hummingbird too!

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  3. Great opportunity to observe and enjoy Hawk going about nature’s business. And nice shots for us to enjoy as well. Our hummers are gone until next spring. There may be a straggler or two but haven’t had any come to our feeder in a while. Great share, Tina.

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  4. Cool! What a treat to be able to observe it for that long… We often see a redtailed hawk that lives in a nearby park, but only in passing. I have never seen one that close for that long.

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  5. “The Before Times”—who thought, just two years ago, that we’d soon be talking like that?

    Do you know if there’s any significance to the fact that this kind of hawk changes colors as it matures? I can’t think of a reason why a different eye color, for example, would confer any advantage.

    For the past month or more at least two gray hummingbirds have been hanging around our house. Last week I saw one of them at the Turk’s cap flowers in our back yard. Maybe they’re the same species as the one you featured here.

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    • I found a couple of articles about hawks’ eye change; it’s a hawk thing, apparently. I always assumed that 1-2 year old hawks had the lighter eyes, but it can take several years for the eyes to darken and female eyes darken more slowly than the males, as a general rule.
      https://avianrecon.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/coopers-hawk-eye-colors/
      https://hawkwatch.org/blog/item/864-eye-color-in-raptors
      https://www.lauraerickson.com/radio/program/9424/coopers-hawk-eye-color/

      I’m not great with female/immature hummingbird identifications. The two most common species here are the Ruby-throated and the Black-chinned. When I see really good photos of the female/immatures, I can tell the difference. I didn’t get a good enough shot of this one, so I’m on a bird limb, assuming it’s a Black-chinned.

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      • The third article dealt with the hypothesis that because reddish eyes indicate maturity, potential mates would be drawn to eyes of that color—and yet a study offered no evidence to corroborate that hypothesis. I like the author’s last paragraph:

        “When I was a little girl, I thought if a person read enough books, he’d know just about everything, and that you could find the answer to any question if you consulted the right book. It didn’t occur to me until I was in college that we don’t yet know the answers to many questions, and that some answers we thought we knew were really more complicated than we thought, and sometimes even wrong. At a time in our nation’s history when it appears that more and more people yearn for simple black and white answers to every issue, we learn that the real world is ever more, not less, complex, the patterns richer and more varied than we dreamed.”

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      • I was struck by that as well. I do find the eye color changes interesting and as much as ornithologists know about these particular birds, that seems to be a bit of a mystery. That’s kind of nice, I think.

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  6. I think I might have a Cooper’s hawk in the neighborhood. I keep getting flashes of it, but the foliage in the trees where it lands still is so thick that it’s nearly impossible to see any distinguishing features other than size. I do know something about its preferred meal, though. There are dove feathers lying about from time to time, and I often hear the loud “thwack!” against the sliding glass door that signals an attack and an attempted escape. Perhaps after the leaves start dropping I’ll be able to catch a photo. As you mentioned, the bluejays occasionally put up an enormous racket, and that may be the signal that trouble’s come to town!

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      • Thanks for the link. That parallels what the articles said that I linked with Steve’s comment. It fascinating though that there’s so much eye color change in birds.

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    • Cooper’s Hawks are pretty common, I think. You’ll be able to see it better once the leaves drop. Interestingly, I usually see lots of hawk activity in fall, winter and spring, rarely in summer. This summer, this one was around all the time. Guess there are plenty of doves!

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  7. Tina I am very sorry for not having written in so long but my depression is very strong and I cannot reach the computer. Your blog today is fascinating: congratulations. The photos of Cooper’s hawk eating his prey are magnificent as is the accompanying text. The same goes for the photo of the black-chinned hummingbird. It’s fabulous!!!! Tina I hope you and Bee Daddy are in good health. Take good care of both of you. Hugs. My best wishes. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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