Monday, June 11, 2012

Coopers' Hawk Journal

Pulling weeds is never a pleasant chore—even when you love to garden.

However, this Spring I had some entertainment that went along with my weed pulling.  Following is a short journal describing the show.
The female gave a few short "Kek's" (apparently this species' "come hither" call)
Saturday 3/24 -    Today as I was working in my yard, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the pin oak tree in our yard.  At first I thought it was a small red-tail hawk, but on closer inspection knew that it couldn’t be.  Every so often this bird would give out a short sharp “Kek” call.  After several “Keks” I heard an answering “Kek, kek, kek,” call and saw another hawk sitting in the Burr Oak about 30 feet from the first bird.  There was no doubt about the second bird—it was definitely a Cooper’s Hawk.  Then it dawned on me—this was a pair!  I’d been seeing two hawks soaring in tandem over the neighborhood for most of the winter.  This must be them.

                                As I watched, the smaller bird (the male) took off over our rooftop.  The larger bird, the female, remained for a while, then she took off in the same direction toward the front of the house. 

                                I returned to my yard work and a short time later rounded the front of the house to discover both birds on the lowest limb of the pin oak in the front yard.  She was eating a morsel that the male had brought her.  As I watched he mated with her. 

Sunday 3/25 -    The hawks are still hanging around.  I haven’t spotted any nesting activity yet, nor have I been able to find what looks like a nest large enough for these birds.  There is one nest perched precariously halfway out on an overhanging limb in our next door neighbor’s yard, but I can’t believe they would be using this one. 
The male would answer the female with a longer call
Monday 3/26 -    The hawks are still here, and today I spotted what looked like breeding activity in the neighbor’s tree.  Again, the larger bird (the female) called with a few short “Kek” calls whereupon the male answered with his longer call and shortly thereafter mated with her.  Apparently, the female initiates the breeding by issuing her invitation.  Soon after they mated I saw one of them soar between our houses with its talons full of nesting materials—away from the nest mentioned earlier.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t determine its destination.  There is a wealth of large trees in our neighborhood and it could be any one of them.

                                This afternoon I saw one of the hawks fly from the neighbor’s backyard tree carrying a stick.  It flew into the tree in our neighbor’s front yard where I spotted a now substantial nest in a large crook of the tree.  I think we’ve found their nest!

Tuesday 3/27 -    Early this morning we spotted one of the birds in the neighbor’s backyard tree.  It’s early and she’s just a silhouette, but clearly she’s dining on something.  As we watched, the male landed in the same tree, plucked a few sticks from it and then made a beeline for the front yard nest.  Soon he returned with a gift for his bride and then promptly mated with her again.  It appears that the backyard tree is their favored perch from which to hunt, breed and guard the nest.   I saw him mate with her three more times today.

Wed 3/28    I watched them mate several times today.  As evening approached both birds settled onto the branch near the “practice nest,” where they’ve mated several times.  My husband and I thought they might be going to roost there tonight, but just before dark they flew off.

Thu 3/29 -    I’ve only seen them flying into a tree several yards away today—but then I wasn’t out in the yard much

Fri 3/30 -    One of the birds spent quite some time on the branch near the “practice nest” today.  It eventually took off and flew into our pine tree.  This “practice nest” is within sight of the nest that we think they’re going to use in the crotch of the pin oak tree in our neighbor’s front yard.  Never did see the other bird—so possibly she may be in the nest.
We believe this is the male who is now bringing food to his mate on the nest
We’ve had a very early Spring this year, and unfortunately for me the leaves in the tree canopy have now become so thick that I can barely see the nest, even when standing directly under it.  I continue to see the male bird, but have not seen the female recently.  I believe she’s sitting on eggs.

Over the next few weeks I spotted the male flying back and forth toward the nest tree, so know they are still in the neighborhood.  Then, one morning I spotted three hawks in the backyard tree.  I think the young have fledged.  One of the birds was the larger female with what appeared to be a younger smaller bird in hot pursuit—obviously looking to mama for food. 

Because of the thick canopy I’ve not been able to tell if there is more than one fledgling. However, it has certainly made my weed pulling less of a chore; and certainly much more entertaining since I could watch the Cooper's Hawks and their antics.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

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