You know what they say: The early bird gets the worm.
In this case, the early bird wasn’t the least bit interested in a worm, but instead chose dove or mockingbird as its breakfast of choice.
Just as it was light this morning, I spotted this juvenile male Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, enjoying a meal atop the remains of my neighbor’s Arizona Ash tree. The tree was damaged during the February 2021 freeze, but retained some of its lower branches. The upper branches all died and were removed last summer. What remains are some well-utilized perches for a variety of birds, including this beauty.
It’s possible that the hawk caught its prey yesterday evening, ate some of it, and saved the rest to finish for breakfast. I know I like left over pizza for breakfast, though I’d probably pass on dove. To each their own.
As I watched the hawk, it fluttered from the highest perch, to the one just below. I’m not certain what the advantage of the lower perch presented, but the hawk stayed for a bit, flying off later to spend the day hunting.
Observe that the outer bark of the tree is pulling away from the main wood. All of the trees damaged in that devastating freeze have similar shedding of of bark, some are larger pieces like this, some smaller. The birds don’t mind, though; it’s been fun to see the variety of birds making use of these large limbs. Everything from this big hawk to tiny hummingbirds perch on various parts of these limbs. I just have to remember to notice.
**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.