Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cooper's Hawk Journal Update: The Kids

This summer my husband and I have had the rare privilege of having a ringside seat to the fledging and education of three young Cooper’s Hawks.  The hawks were hatched in our next-door neighbor’s oak tree.

In an earlier blog post I described the courtship and mating ritual of a pair of Cooper’s Hawks that I was lucky enough to observe from my back yard.  However, once they laid and began incubating the eggs I saw very little of the adult pair or the nestlings, since the tree cover was so thick.
This perching business isn't as easy as it looks!
Around the middle of June I began to see the fledglings taking their first tentative flights into the surrounding trees.  At first there was only one, then two—and finally three.  From their relative sizes there appears to be two females and one male.  (In most raptors the females are larger than the males.)
Small twigs prove to be serious obstacles.
Soon they began to entertain us with their antics. At first they were like human toddlers, clumsily walking the large branches of the oak trees and teetering when they were faced with the obstacle of smaller branches along a limb.
Either Mama or Papa was always close by
Flights were mostly short hopping flights from one branch to another.  While they were navigating their new world mama was never far away.
After a few days of practice their perching and landing skills had improved immensely
Soon they were zooming from one tree to another and perching on the power lines, fences and other objects that filled their environment.  Occasionally I would see them on the ground devouring a meal delivered to them by one of the parents.
Their hunger screams made them fairly easy to locate in the early mornings
In the early morning I could usually locate their whereabouts by listening for the youngsters’ hunger screams.

Then, one day as I was sitting on my patio with my morning coffee I spotted one of the youngsters trying to hunt!  I say trying because the chosen quarry was a squirrel, albeit a small one.  A Cooper’s Hawk’s main prey is usually small birds, along with some small rodents, large insects, etc.  Squirrels are listed as prey on occasion, but I have a feeling that this prey is usually reserved for the older, more experienced, adult birds.

This squirrel must have been quite young, since it was almost as clueless as the young Cooper’s Hawk.   The squirrel was starting across the lawn when the hawk launched itself from its perch on a fence.  Of course, the squirrel promptly scampered up the trunk of the tree from which it had emerged, leaving the hawk somewhat befuddled on the ground.  However, the squirrel didn’t continue up the tree trunk.  It turned around and came back down to the ground and confronted the young hawk.  It was a standoff!  The hawk hopped and flared its wings, at which the squirrel again scampered up the tree—only to return and lunge at the hawk, which hopped backwards several steps.  The show continued like this for a few more minutes until the hawk seemed to decide this wasn’t working quite like it had expected. 

In the meantime the hawk’s sibling was making a pass at a full-grown rabbit, which easily evaded its pursuer.  Of course, my camera was inside the house and I got none of this on film.  Suffice it to say I now rarely venture onto my patio without my camera in tow.
When it's over 100° any bit of water is a welcome place to cool off
A couple of days later, as I was packing to leave for vacation, my husband spotted one of the hawks in our birdbath!  The temperature that day was reading 111° on our driveway and our young bird was trying to cool off.  This time I was ready.  I grabbed my camera, with long lens attached, snuck slowly around the corner of the house, and was able to get a few photos.  By now these young birds had become so habituated to our presence that I believe they consider us just another part of their environment.  As long as we don’t move too abruptly or try to get too close they seem to tolerate us. 

While we were gone on vacation for a week in July the temperatures in St. Louis hovered in the 100-105° area.  Since our sprinklers were on a timer I hoped that the birds were taking advantage of the water.  When we returned it was evident from the amount of “bird splash” on our patio and patio furniture that our youngsters had been there while we were gone.
These youngsters have now become daily visitors
Ever since returning, we’ve seen one or all of the three youngsters at the birdbath every day.  They’ve even begun landing in the birdbath while my husband and I are sitting on our patio—just as long as we keep a respectful distance and don't move too quickly.
An overgrown abandoned dog kennel is a perfect place to practice hunting skills
One morning I spotted one of the hawks sitting on a wooden fence that had once been a dog kennel—long since abandoned.  The neighbor had allowed weeds and brush to grow up inside the kennel.  This has proven to be a perfect playground for the three young hawks as I’m certain it’s an ideal environment for insects and mice.  The hawk would watchfully sit on the fence top, and then every so often dive into the underbrush.  The other two hawks were doing the same thing from the other side of the enclosure.
I'm not sure what they were rootiing for, but all three were doing it
I assumed that they were practicing their hunting skills until I saw one of them swoop to the ground under a bush in a more open area of the yard.  The hawk began rooting with its beak and feet at the base of the bush, presumably for insects or mice.  Soon it was joined by the other two hawks, who also rooted around at the base of the bush. 
Apparently even young hawks take time out to play
This learning to hunt was serious business!  However, being youngsters, this soon turned into a game in which they began to chase each other round and round the bush like kids playing “Ring Around The Rosey”.  This went on for about 15 minutes until they tired of the game, and then all three decided to take a dip in their own personal pool—my birdbath.
They seem to consider my birdbath their own personal pool
I have yet to see them make a kill, and they’re still hunger screaming for mom and dad in the early mornings, so they still have some serious growing up to do.  But mom and dad are owed a real round of applause for being able to provide for these three healthy youngsters up to this point. 

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

No comments: