**This series of photos shows a predator eating prey.**
Towards the end of a day, I walked into my front garden, and glancing to my neighbor’s lawn, saw this Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, enjoying its Sunday dinner.
On the menu that evening was White-winged Dove, a favorite meal for the neighborhood hawks. I’ll admit to always feeling a bit sorry for those who are caught, but this scene demonstrates at least one part of a healthy ecosystem: that there are predators to hunt plentiful prey–and that is a good thing. There are more than enough fat, well-fed White-winged Doves in our area.
I imagine that this hawk is an adult from the mated pair of Cooper’s nesting behind my SIL’s house. As the trees leafed out, watching the hawks at their nesting site became nearly impossible, but they’re still around and hunting. Obviously.
The hawk ate for about an hour, eventually flying off with the last part of the meal, presumably as a snack for later–or to feed its babies. I’ll have a better idea of the Cooper’s parents’ success if I see a juvenile hunting in late summer and autumn.
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.
We were in the middle of an early dinner, sitting at the kitchen table observing the late day sunshine stream through part of the back garden. A movement caught my eye and I saw a hawk land in the neighbor’s Crape Myrtle tree. The small tree’s spidery branches, jade green foliage, and lavender blooms reach up and over the privacy fence and peek into my garden, and that evening, supported a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, as it perched and scanned the landscape for a bird meal. The hawk sat for a minute or two, enough time for me to drop my fork and grab the camera. I had a fairly clear view of the big bird through the window and didn’t want to spook the hawk by going outside, so a through-the-window photo was required! The hawk didn’t sit still though, shifting its position and looking this way and that way, so a front-on photo was impossible. But I like that this shot caught its head, visually framed between two intersecting limbs.
Additionally, as it perched in this spot, the rays of the waning sun showcased the hawk’s beautiful markings. This character is a juvenile; its eyes are golden, rather than the deep red-orange of an adult bird.
The hawk’s juvenile inexperience was also evident in its behavior. Looking for who-knows-what, after a minute or so in the myrtle, it flew to the open space beneath my large red oak tree (where Woody the beehive sits) and landed on the ground. It circled, wings out, then took flight toward the house, immediately banking right and then back toward the myrtle, landing instead in my Retama tree, Parkinsonia aculeata. This tree is about 10 feet to the right of the myrtle. I suppose the hawk wanted a different look-see around the garden; after all, the birds might be easier to spot from a different angle. Because I didn’t have a good view of the hawk’s newly chosen perch, I belted to the back of my house, taking this photo through my bedroom window.
My year-round, resident birds–Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, Wrens, White-winged doves, and House Finches are less active now and whatever feeder activity they engage in is usually completed earlier than when this hawk showed up for dinner. I’m guessing it was hungry and is still refining its potentially formidable hunting skills, but doesn’t always meet with success. Cooper’s hawks mainly hunt birds and while I hate to see songbirds become meals, that’s the way of the natural world; that said, my neighborhood hawks are welcome to the abundant doves and seasonal starlings. I’ve been hearing lots of Blue Jay alarm calls recently and glimpse hawk action several times a week, either with the sudden scattering of multiple potential prey birds or with a large shadow through the trees.
As autumn ushers in shorter days and eventual cold and foliage drop, (not necessarily in that order), it will become easier to observe the various predators who make their homes near mine. I’ve provided a garden which both nurtures and protects prey, while tolerating predators, allowing a full circle of wild life–Bringing Nature Home. Rather than swaths of sterile turf and the non-nonnative plants garden aesthetic of the past, I grow a garden which replicates and reflects nature, supports life, and is found directly outside our windows and doors.
For some instructive reading about reclaiming nature in your own space, check out the book, Bringing Nature Home, by University of Delaware’s Professor Doug Tallamy, and his website, highlighted above.
What wild things have you observed in your garden? I hope there are plenty of wild stories to share. As well, I’m linking with Anna of Flutter and Hum for Wednesday Vignette. Happy wildlife gardening!