New Cooper’s Hawks

Adult Cooper’s Hawk, in mid-March in the oak tree

Hawks are fierce hunters; they fly and perch noiselessly, hunt swiftly and quietly. But the chicks, of course, are not that way; they haven’t learned how to be  warriors yet.

Dependent, hungry, and inexperienced, the chicks have squawky voices and incessant demands: “feed me feed me feed me.”

Cooper’s Hawk fledgling, early July

It was the Cooper’s Hawk chick that gave away the secret of the well-hidden nest I found, high up in a madrone tree.

Just as I looked up to examine the unusual sound, a parent swooped into the nest with food. This quieted the chick. The little guys hadn’t learned stealth yet, and the parents know too well the importance of it.

Stealth is the key to survival in nature.

This coyote, in the vicinity of the hawk nest, would find a hawk chick tasty

Accipiter cooperii are medium-sized hawks, native to North America.  They live and breed primarily in forests, preying on birds and small mammals. Adult pairs breed once a year, and live in the wild as long as 12 years.

Cooper’s Hawk info. 

It was back in mid-March when I began noticing the Cooper’s Hawk here every day.  Temperatures were in the 30s and 40s (F.), there was even snow. The hawk perched every day in the same bare-leafed oak tree. Quiet and still, it mostly watched.

Eventually the cold days gave way to spring, and leaves started to bud and unfurl on the hawk’s oak tree. The raptor apparently preferred bare trees, because he or she moved, began perching on a nearby dead pine tree.

Once in awhile a bold hummingbird would harass the hawk, rather ridiculously, scolding it to move on. But nothing ever happened.

Then in June things changed. The hawk moved from that favorite spot in the pine tree–began perching near the bird feeders, instead. There were close-calls when the hawk nearly got a pigeon or mourning dove; and more frequently we were finding signs of a kill, evidenced by gray dove feathers scattered in the yard.

California Quail

Then there was the breakfast incident.

We were eating breakfast outside when a terrified California quail, sounding his alarm call, flew by us. Just behind him, the Cooper’s Hawk sailed effortlessly by, gaining on the quail.

Quail are heavy ground birds and don’t fly much. Cooper’s Hawks are agile fliers, silent and fast, bearing down dramatically on their prey.  When they reach the prey, they capture it with the talons and squeeze the bird to death.

The two birds disappeared around a bend.

Ten minutes later, during tea and scones, the hawk flew over our heads with the plucked prey in his talons.

When a raptor is taking food away from the kill-site, it usually means there are hungry chicks waiting in the nest.

Cooper’s Hawk nest in madrone tree

It was the next day when I found the nest in the treetop, spotted the noisy chicks.

There were two chicks, and they were pretty big, nearly adult size. One was still in the nest; the other sat perched in a nearby tree. Neither could fly, but the older one could hop around.

Cooper’s Hawk fledgling, early July

A few weeks have passed and the nest is abandoned. But the chicks are still here.

The parents are quiet and hidden, there’s no evidence of them being around, but that’s the way it should be.

The chicks, well, they’re still learning. They hunt together, and I always hear them at dinnertime. The two siblings have high-pitched whistling calls, and they never stop making noise.

Instead of perching quietly and watching, they fly around conversing with one another through the trees. And yesterday they landed together on our deck railing.

We all have things to learn, even ferocious raptors.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

96 thoughts on “New Cooper’s Hawks

  1. How wonderful to spot the hawks, nest and chicks. Thank you, Jet for the story and these beautiful captures! I spotted a couple of hawks when I visited S Calif a couple of weeks ago, didn’t get a good photos. Happy to see your post. 🙂

  2. Wow to the breakfast incident! I admit I did not know that hawks kill other birds. Always learning from you Jet and in this case glad to be reading post breakfast! Warriors seems like the perfect description of these hunters. Seems like the teenage warriors will need to learn to keep their chatter and gossip down if they are to model after their stealth parents. As always a delight to read and learn more from you. Athena’s photos a special delight.

    • There’s so much going on here in the summer, with all the new birds learning their various skills and tasks. That breakfast incident, we purposely didn’t go over there, didn’t want to see, because we love the quail too. Great fun to share it with you, Sue, and my warmest thanks for your visit, words, kindness, and interest.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Cooper’s hawk story, Sherry. I enjoyed the article, thanks for the link; they are a resounding success story in their adaptive ways. Thanks very much.

      • The birds that can learn and adapt to changes, such as urban environments, will survive. Specialists are in trouble. One recently have Red-tailed Hawks taken to living in city parks. Like our famous Pale Male (has site by that name).

  3. What an exciting and interesting observation you experienced of the Cooper hawk parents and chicks getting ready to fledge plus the interaction between hawks and hummingbird; I can understand why a hawk would respect the threatening beak of the hummingbird. Yikes! I have seen several small and large raptors throughout our area but I’m never able to identify which species they belong to while they are in flight. Thanks for sharing your interesting journal.

    • Thank you, SWI, for your wonderful comment. Hawks are tricky to identify, and the Cooper’s looks very much like the sharp-shinned. I always think it’s so funny when a little hummingbird scolds other birds ten times bigger than themselves. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I went to your blog today, and so enjoyed your posts, and especially the sketches. I found the drawing with the tall grass and fence posts especially fetching.

    • That nest was about 25 feet up, so I didn’t think Athena would get any photos, but she used a long lens and they came out nicely. As it turned out, that was the last day the chick was in the nest, so we were fortunate. Thanks so much, Tom.

  4. A fabulous story that taught a lot! Nature seems harsh to me sometimes. It’s not all flowers and peacocks.
    It’s cats and mice & hawks and quail. I love all the animals, and would never interfere, but it does upset me sometimes. Wonderful post!

    • You raise a good point, Resa. When we are in true nature, there are all kinds of conflicts and challenges. Fortunately there are some flowers and peacocks and beautiful elements that balance out the harshness. Thank you very much.

    • Thanks Michael. That coyote shot is from the critter cam, something of which you are VERY familiar. I loved your post today, about all you have seen and experienced at your marsh. And I liked Rose in the field too. 🙂

  5. We have hawks in the neighborhood but their markings are different – I suspect they are actually owned by someone across the valley. We only see them in the evening, chasing quail into glass windows, of course.

    • hmmm, that sounds a bit odd, Jan. The most common hawks in the Bay Area are sharp-shinned, red-tailed, red-shouldered, and Cooper’s. They all have their own niches. I don’t know about owned hawks, only wild ones. Always great to have you stop by, thank you.

    • Yes, it is wonderful to watch the scenes unfold. At the moment as I type, it is 6am and I hear the Cooper’s juveniles in their airy, whistling call. Living rurally is not for everyone, and there are plenty of challenges too, but I love it. Hawks circling around your parents’ house might be turkey vultures. If they are black and white from underneath, and they occasionally tilt slightly back and forth as they fly, they are turkey vultures. Always fun. Thanks so much, Christy, I enjoyed your comment.

  6. Such excitement (and entertainment – unless you’re a quail) and all in your backyard. Fierce creatures, and what a thrill to see them in all stages of development.
    Wonderful post! Thanks, Jet, and we hope you have a great weekend!

    • Kind of you to take time off from your vacation adventures, PC, to visit here. It is definitely a thrill to watch the Cooper’s hawks in their stages of development. Every year is different, and this year, due to the Cooper’s hawks, we will probably not have a good quail year. Quail chicks are super vulnerable (and so adorable), and it is about time for them to be born, but many will probably get eaten, unfortunately. This year we have more scorpions too. I wish somebody would eat those. ha. Thanks for your kind words, pc, and my best wishes to you and Mrs. pc for adventurous and delightful vacation days ahead.

  7. I’m very familiar with the Cooper’s Hawks because I see them often. They live on nests at about 200 yards from my house atop a tall pine tree. Once in a while they try their luck in my backyard. I have my Mockingbird posse to guard at all times. Nice post my friend… 🙂

    • Those of us with high feeder activity often see the Cooper’s. I wondered if you had them, so I was glad to get your feedback, HJ. And I laughed out loud at your “mockingbird posse.” That’s hilarious. We live at an elevation and the mockingbirds don’t come up here. We do have the bobcat and coyote regularly, but they’re not around during the day like your handy posse. Your comment was much appreciated and enjoyed, HJ….

  8. I enjoyed your morning tea adventure, although I was hoping the quail would be flying back by on its own and that the hawk would be satisfied to take a scone back to the nest for the chicks. I’m still trying to understand why it is that I always hope the birds and squirrels make a quick escape from the hawks, but somehow do not have that same reaction while watching the birds on the lake catch a fish. Loved the post and photos and I was glad to read in your comments that the coyote photo was taken by a critter cam and that they are not regular visitors to your deck with the hawks.

    • Your comment gave me a big smile, ACI. I appreciate all the elements of the post that you took in, very much. This morning I saw the two sibling juvenile hawks in the treetops, and I hoped that the flycatcher who is slaving over her second brood of tiny hairless chicks in her nest, was keeping a vigilant watch. And you’re right, it’s not the same when a fish is caught…for some reason. Thanks so very much, my friend.

  9. That’s a great nature soap opera you have going on nearby Jet, I’m not sure I would have wanted to witness the chase of the quail, but it must be wonderful to watch the chicks growing up.

    • It really is a soap opera, Andrea, I like your choice of words. People who visit from their urban neighborhoods think there is nothing going on out here in the wilderness. But oh, there is so much going on. Wonderful to “see” you, I hope you are enjoying a pleasant weekend.

  10. That California quail is magnificent! And yes forces me to reconcile my animal lovers dimension with my French culinary appreciation for roast quails… I guess quails are now off my menu. Beautiful animals. Great photos as always!!!


  11. Fascinating post, Jet. This Cooper’s Hawk looks like the Sharp-shinned Hawk I thought I saw a month or two ago in our backyard. Now I am not sure which is which. 🙂

  12. What a charming post. I’m getting quite anxious for the big move (less than two weeks now)! It’ll be nice to be in a location where birding opportunities should be more available. I’ll be using the lessons you provided here hoping to locate nests. Unfortunately our quail families aren’t coming in quite as close to the house now that there’s been more human (& dog) type activity there. On the other hand, the creek seems to be a very popular flyway for those with wings.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Cooper’s hawk post, Gunta, and happy you gleaned some nesting information for your new house. Once you and your husband get settled in to the new place, and the wildlife get accustomed to their new neighbors, wonderful new experiences will unfold. Your creek will be great fun. I know you are looking forward to finally being all moved in, and I am looking forward to seeing all the creatures. My best wishes to you during this final transition.

  13. I guess “stealth” must be at the end of their curriculum, eh? Oh, how much of this beautiful world you and Athena see! Thanks, as always, for sharing it.

    • haha. Yes, stealth must be at the end of their curriculum. This morning they were hunting together again; I was wondering if they help each other. So glad you enjoyed the hawk post, Nan.

  14. Our yard chicks, though plentiful, haven’t been as exciting as your Coop’s. We watched in horror once as a Coop came out of nowhere and nailed a White-winged Dove just feet from the window where we were looking out. He also carried it off…we saw juvies a few months later which makes me wonder if there was a nest nearby. Also, did you know that hummingbirds will build their nests near Cooper’s Hawks nests? It’s like having a 24/7 bird bouncer at the door, I guess. Enjoyed your post and narrative, as always, Jet.

    • Hi Shannon, I was just thinking about you yesterday! I’m delighted for your visit and comment today. And no, I didn’t know hummingbirds will build nests near the Cooper’s. Our h-birds here nest in early April, so I’m not sure that pertains here, but who knows. Regardless of how hard I try, I see one hummingbird nest an average of every ten years. I know where I’ll look next April though…. Great to hear your experiences, and thank you for your kind words and interesting info.

    • Thank you for your visit and lovely comment, Jo. No, it’s never easy learning life lessons. Those young hawks are so cute, trying to be intimidating. This morning I saw one of the juveniles fly over the bird feeders and call out a warning in his squeaky undeveloped voice. Neither the birds nor the squirrel even looked up. ha. Cheers to you!

  15. Well done Jet! Your sharp eyed! I’ve always wanted to put a remote camera above a eagles nest to observe them.Of course it would have to be installed while they are off at the salmon grounds during the run.

    • Great to see you here today, Wayne. Yes, I am a sharp-eyed spotter. I’ve been birding for 26 years, learned a few things. ha. Oh did I ever enjoy your photos today, Wayne. I found myself thinking about the eagles in the mossy tree as I was driving home from the grocery store. Really incredible art, and wildlife intimacy.

    • I find it fascinating too, Kirt. Still today they are not grasping the stealth, I hear their airy whistling cry mostly at dawn and dusk. In fact, it was the first bird sound this morning pre-dawn. Always a joy. Thanks so much, Kirt, I enjoy your visits.

  16. Amazing bird photos, Jet. Very nice timing with the coyote too. The poor quail was breakfast, sad to here but that’s the way the life cycle works. Good to hear the chicks are still hanging around. They sound brave and their nest sounds and looks every bit cozy and toasty 🙂

    • The hawk chicks are brave, though I hadn’t really thought about that, Mabel, so thank you for this. It is wonderful to be in their presence, though they wreak a bit of havoc from time to time. A delight to be at your blog, and to have you visit here…my thanks.

  17. Great photos, Jet. Very interesting to read this. I suppose it is to be expected that a bird feeder will attract birds and also their hunters. I guess you just accept that the hawks will kill an occasional visitor to your feeders.

    Interestingly, “who” we barrack for depends on the emphasis of the story. In a story about the plight of antelopes, we support them. In a story about the plight of lions, we support them. I guess humans are the fickle ones. 🙂

    • You bring up a tricky topic, in such an elegant way, Draco. The cycles of life are never black-and-white, as we fickle humans know so well. My thanks for your lovely visit.

  18. Great post and photos. We have had an explosion of rabbits around our house in Colorado this summer, and Red Tail Hawks and Prairie Falcons frequently swoop in for a meal. They are magnificent creatures. Other birds go crazy, and try to drive them off, but they ignore these attacks and continue to feed. Quite a spectacle.

    • It is an amazing thing to witness how the natural cycles of life proceed around us. We are still enjoying the youthful Cooper’s Hawks–now they are better fliers, expanding their territory too. Your hawks and falcons sound like a wonderful spectacle, Firelands. Thanks for your visit and comment.

  19. We love your pics.
    We are from India and we are new here, our production do a bird and culture photography nd people like us in udaipur. if u you love birds and give respect to the all culture “than at a once check out our blog love birds and if you love than like and follow.”

    • I had an equally enjoyable time learning about the home where the Bronte sisters lived, on your post, tp. Thanks so much for your visit here. It is not often we have the opportunity to see hawks up close, so I am glad I could share it with you.

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