An Inconspicuous Hawk

Late this morning, a very fine Cooper’s Hawk perched in the top bare branches of a tall pecan tree in a neighbor’s yard. At first, it looked like just a big buffy part of a branch, but when I looked with binoculars, the branch turned into a Hawk with a rather flat, neatly-shaped gray head turned in profile. Its body looked deceptively big, with gray shoulders and wings, and a broad reddish-streaked breast that was muted in color, almost pale. The feathers of the lower belly were fluffed out, maybe by a breeze, and snowy white.

I couldn’t see its tail, which was hidden by a tangle of branches, but then it flew, maybe because I had disturbed it. It flapped deeply several times, then soared on outspread wings, showing off the long, slender, slightly rounded tail, tipped in white. It gained altitude quickly, but instead of continuing to climb, after only a minute it suddenly plummeted down toward a clump of trees a little further up the street.

I wasn’t able to find it again, but I’m happy to know that we may have a Cooper’s Hawk in the neighborhood for the winter, since this is the second time I’ve seen one recently. Although they’re here year-round, I don’t see them often in any season. I think it’s only by luck when I see one – even when it’s sitting in a bare-limbed tree out in full view, it blends with the background amazingly well.

The species account in Birds of North America* describes a Cooper’s Hawk as “a secretive, inconspicuous species,” and as “a quintessential woodland hawk. With short, powerful, rounded wings and a relatively long tail that ensures maneuverability in dense cover, it is well adapted for quick pursuit of forest birds and mammals.” They apparently adapt well to suburban settings, as long as enough woodlands or forested areas remain a part of the landscape.

*Rosenfield, R.N., and J. Bielefeldt. 2006. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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