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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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