By Wendy Langhans
Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader and a knowledgeable birding friend, I learned that the bird I had initially identified as a Red-Shouldered Hawk was, in fact, a Cooper’s Hawk. I’m not sure if it’s egg or guano on my face, but I apologize for the error. The story has been revised to be more accurate.
One Sunday a few weeks ago, my young friend Drew came up to me with a huge grin on his face. “We have a hawk in our backyard,” he said.
“Oh cool!”, I replied. “Can you get me a picture of it?” Two weeks later, a picture arrived on my Facebook page. It was a Cooper’s Hawk, sitting on their back fence, with a dead mouse dangling from its left talon. That bird looked like he was waiting for an empty spot to open up on the grill.
Cooper’s Hawk. Photo courtesy Drew Sims.
Cooper’s hawks are raptors, birds of prey that kill and eat small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other birds. Some common characteristics of raptors include:
- Talons (sharp claws). Cooper’s hawks have two feet with three talons in front and one behind. Theses talons allow the hawk to both grasp and pierce its prey.
- Hooked beaks. Cooper’s hawks use their sharp beaks to rip their prey apart into bite-sized chunks.
- Keen eyesight. Raptor eyesight is about 8 times more powerful than human eyesight. Cooper’s hawks are diurnal, which means they hunt during the day. They perch on a high spot and scan their surroundings. When they spot prey, they drop down and catch it with their sharp talons.
A Red-shouldered Hawk hunting from a telephone pole in Towsley Canyon
The word “raptor” comes from “Middle English, ‘carried away’, from Latin ‘raptus’, past participle of ‘rapere’, to seize.” But interestingly enough, the Latin root also leads to our English “rapt”, as in being completely fascinated by what you see or hear. I’m sure Drew was fascinated by what he heard and saw. And so, in an odd sort of way, the mouse was not the only mammal carried away by that hawk. Drew and I were; I hope you are too.
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