Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to be on a theme or running on a script? Sometimes the script is from a bad movie, but usually it involves the repetition of a certain word or subject – such as hot dogs or German adverbs – or a sequence of events involving dead phones, computer glitches, and failing cameras. Well, I had a Cooper’s Hawk day last week and I’m going to tell you about it. None of the following actually happened to me but they were all related to me on the same day. As a naturalist, people tell me things and ask questions and this is the reason I became the common factor on this issue.
Granted, I realize this particular thing is probably a naturalist specific event and might need some explaining. Cooper’s Hawks are medium sized, long-tailed, members of the Accipiter group of hawks. They are bird-eating hawks which specialize in plucking house finches and doves from feeders and rendering them into piles of feathers and blood. They nest on stick platforms constructed high up in the branches of woodland or parkland trees and can be very aggressive when it comes to nest defense. There, I think that does it. We can now proceed without any further explanation to case no. 1.
A museum patron named Linda walked in the door and leaned over the counter. She had a camera in hand. By the curl of her eyebrows I knew that she had an identification question relating to a picture on that camera (you could say I’ve seen this before). She proceeded to show me a photo of a young hawk sitting next to a little girl and told me that they encountered the bird in the play area at Willow Metropark. I told her that it was probably a young Cooper’s Hawk and she went on to explain that there was a large nest in the tree above this spot.
The family was at their annual reunion in the picnic area when Jessica, Linda’s niece, walked over to her and started to tell her about her new friend. Jessica said something to the effect that her aunt needn’t worry because her friend wouldn’t hurt her. This, of course, caught Linda’s interest and she asked to see this person. “Her name is Rebecca,” spouted Jessica and she led her over to the slide. There on the top platform was a rather befuddled looking young Cooper’s Hawk. It had a hefty covering of down but was in the process of molting into sub-adult feathering – resulting in a male pattern baldness appearance. Like a puppy, it was obviously destined to grow into its feet! The pictures will do better than words for this part of the story (although I can’t explain the heavy glove in the shot).
Jessica and her aunt talked it over and decided to let Rebecca…er, the bird… stay where it was. Jessica was worried that a “Park Ranger” might put it into a cage and take it away (those bad old park rangers). They both said a little prayer for the bird and walked off. As a parting gift, the niece left a few of the prizes she had won in some of the earlier games on the slide platform with Rebecca. Eventually the hawklet flew off the slide and sauntered off into the woods and all were happy.
Lucky for Jessica and Linda, the parent birds were not in the immediate vicinity of Becky the Coop. This story may not have ended so delightfully if they had.
Shortly after this delightful story was told to me, I received a call which went about as follows. A lady reported a baby hawk of some sort in Memorial Park in Lincoln Park (next to the John Wilkes Toll Booth – just kidding). It had a white chest with “tannish streaks” on it, a longer tail with bands on it, and was about 12 inches tall. You, the reader, need only to look at the pictures of Rebecca to make your judgment as to what was being described.
This gal had been watching the nest from a distance for some time now and needed to settle an argument with a friend who said it was a Peregrine falcon family. She thought it was a Cooper’s Hawk. Sight unseen, I was able to confirm that her friend was a stupid idiot because our local Peregrines nest on the sides of buildings and not in tree nests. In order to separate it from a possible Red-tailed Hawk nest I asked what kind of prey the adults had been bringing to the nest. “Birds, “she said, “it was bringing birds to the nest and plucking them into pieces for the young.” Yes, it was a Coopers Hawk or else I am a stupid idiot.
Finally, as if these two Cooper capers weren’t enough, a fellow called up a few hours later and told me about something that happened to him. “I was on the bike trail (through Lake Erie Metropark) this morning and something attacked me”, he said. “I felt some claws dig into the back of my head and then something flew off. It was a large bird, but I didn’t get a good look at it. I was more shocked than hurt.” When asked where on the trail this occurred he said it was the portion that goes through the woods at the north end of the park. “Ah, “I said, “there is a Cooper’s hawk nest there – I’ll bet you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Wow,” I then said after I hung up the phone,” the world is being overtaken by Cooper’s Hawks.”
NOTE: ALL PICTURES IN THIS EDITION OF NATURESPEAK WERE TAKEN BY LINDA GAWLIK AND USED WITH HER PERMISSION (there was no permission from Rebecca).