The Cooper’s Hawk

Top Photo: Cooper’s hawk in courtship display flight over museum.

While spying on hooded mergansers in our wetland here at the Museum of Life + Science, I noticed one of the ducks tilt its head to the side and glance skyward. Reasoning the merganser was eyeing something potentially hazardous to itself, I too craned upward, thinking it perhaps an eagle or other worthy raptor.

There, way up high against a severe clear sky was a Cooper’s hawk. It’s stiff posture and deep, stiff wing beats indicated it was performing a courtship display flight for some unseen prospective mate perched out of view in the pines around us.

After watching the hawk for several minutes the bird went into a power glide towards the southwest, over the pines, and out of sight.

Power glide to the SW.

We’ve hosted Cooper’s hawks in the past. Each time, the accipiters nested on the north side of our 84 acre campus. Today’s sighting made a strong case for us hosting them again.

Later the same morning while walking along the path near the top of the 750’ boardwalk leading to Explore the Wild, I heard a familiar sound but couldn’t quite place it, “cak cak cak cak” or “kek kek kek kek” coming from one of the trees above. It had to be a Cooper’s hawk.

It was.

High up in a pine just off the path was a lone Cooper’s hawk.

Cooper’s hawk on pine branch.
From opposite side of tree. Hawk sees movement below.

As I watched the hawk and tried to photograph it against the harsh light, a squirrel innocently made its way back from a forage trek to its nest about twenty feet or so from the perched hawk. The hawk fiercely dove upon the rodent. The squirrel hastily ducked into its nest. The hawk missed.

The attack.
The hawk and squirrel’s nest.

To the squirrel’s credit it remained motionless inside the nest as the hawk unsuccessfully flew and hopped around the tree looking for a way into the leafy abode. After a few frustrated minutes, the hawk was off to new adventures in Catch the Wind.

Seemingly frustrated Cooper’s hawk.

Cooper’s hawks are one of three accipiters that can be seen in North Carolina. Sharp-shinned the smallest, and northern goshawk, the largest, are the others.

Known primarily as bird hawks, Copper’s hawks also prey on small mammals like shrews, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels. They’re built for the forest with relatively short rounded wings and long tail, making for swift take-offs and rapid turns to negotiate a wooded habitat.

Hopefully, they will nest here this year.

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