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Greg Peck: Cooper's hawk haunts my neighborhood

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Greg Peck
June 26, 2014

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the Cooper's hawk is among the world's most skillful fliers. The Cooper is a common woodland hawk that will “tear through cluttered tree canopies in high-speed pursuit of other birds.”

The lab goes on: “You're most likely to see one prowling above a forest edge or field using just a few stiff wing beats followed by a glide. With their smaller look-alike, the sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawks make for famously tricky identifications. Both species are sometimes unwanted guests at birdfeeders, looking for an easy meal (but not one of sunflower seeds).”

Maybe identification is tricky, but I'm pretty sure what I've seen in my neighborhood off and on the past few years is a Cooper's hawk. I've gotten real good looks at it.

The first time I saw it, my son was just leaving our house on a snowy day when it flew across our yard, intercepting a meal—a smaller bird—in midair and leaving nothing but floating feathers. It dined on its victim in the snow behind our garden, but not long enough for me to retrieve my camera.

One day last year, the Cooper flew out of a tree and landed on top of a car parked on Randall Avenue. I couldn't believe it! It stood there looking at Molly, my cairn terrier, and me as we strolled past.

It might not be a lone Cooper, of course. Who would know?

Several weeks ago, I had another close encounter. Molly and I turned onto Fremont Street just as I saw the hawk fly into a tree about 30 yards ahead. I got a great view of the hawk, no more than 10 feet above the sidewalk, tearing into another small, feathered victim, as Molly and I passed under the tree. I hurried home, grabbed my camera and zoom lens, and raced back, but breakfast was over.

Maybe I shouldn't leave home for those morning walks without toting the camera every day! I asked my friend Nancy Nabak of Green Bay if she had any photos of a Cooper's. Nancy, the historian and a board member with the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, has snapped an impressive collection of bird photos. She sent me the accompanying photo of two adult Cooper's hawks on a nest but did so apologizing that she didn't have a better image. Thanks, Nancy!

 Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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