Got a Backyard Cooper’s Hawk? There Will be Blood

The Cooper’s Hawk Art of Hunting

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Traits that allow the Cooper’s Hawk to surprise its prey when hunting also make it difficult to observe by humans.

But we were lucky to witness a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter Cooperii) hunting and capture our observations in a series of photographs.

Cooper’s Hawks Hunt Backyard Birds

If you’re into birds and have bird feeders, you’ve encountered the backyard bird-eating terrors known as Cooper’s Hawks.

These beautiful accipiters are amazing hunters from both perches and on the wing.

They approach their prey stealthily, using dense vegetation to conceal their approach and then attack their target with a sudden burst of speed.

For Backyard Birds, There Will be Blood

After finding clumps of feathers close to our bird feeders and blood on the patio behind our office, we knew Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shinned Hawks were dining on our songbirds.

We didn’t see the birds flying through the yard, but we weren’t looking outside the office windows all day, either.

Then early one morning, Dan was at his desk and saw a large object land in the Pine Tree overlooking the feeders.

coopers_hawk_in_tree
Cooper’s Hawk perched in Pine Tree checking out its dining option

Dan was suspicious and grabbed his camera to see what was happening.

Immediately all the songbirds scatter to the nearby bush for refuge from the predator.

His suspicions were correct. Covertly perching in the Pine Tree was a beautiful juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

The bird has red-orange eyes with a drip-like brown, vertical streaking on the breast indicating it’s a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

Adult Cooper’s Hawks have crimson red eyes and a barring pattern on their chest.

Cooper's_Hawk _perched_in_tree
Cooper’s Hawk using Pine Tree to conceal its approach

Birds in the Bush

The hawk stands still observing the songbirds in the bush and then jumps to the ground, and slowly walks closer.

Just before the Cooper’s Hawk gets close to its target, the bird displays a sudden burst of speed and jumps into the bush.

Cooper's Hawk quietly approaches songbirds in the bush
Cooper’s Hawk quietly approaches songbirds in the bush

Watching this play out, Dan runs outside making noise to drive the Cooper’s Hawk away.

It’s never our intention to interfere with the circle of life, but we’re not serving up songbirds on a silver platter for this bird of prey either.

The Cooper’s Hawk doesn’t easily scare, but finally, it flies off, and the songbirds go on to live another day.

As Dan is walking back into the office, he notices several songbirds and Mourning Doves sitting on the roof watching this scenario play out.

He feels like he’s on bird reality tv.

Cooper's Hawk giving us a quick look before it runs into the bush to attack the songbirds
Cooper’s Hawk giving us a quick look before it runs into the bush to attack the songbirds

READ: SAVE OUR RAPTORS, DON’T USE RODENTICIDE!

Cooper’s Hawk Conservation

We love our birds of prey and do everything we can to help protect them, even though that means having the occasional bird parts and blood strewn over our patio and back yards.

Birds of prey, like the Cooper’s Hawk, play an important ecological role by controlling rodents and other small mammals.

Here are a few things we should all be doing to help save these beautiful birds of prey, or what we call Cooper’s Hawk Conservation.

According to the Audubon, Cooper’s Hawks are not considered threatened or endangered, but they are at risk from a variety of threats.

One of the most dangerous threats these birds face is from rodenticide poisoning.

Whatever an animal eats, especially poison, travels up the food chain. Illustration by Raptors are the Solution
Whatever an animal eats, especially poison, travels up the food chain. Illustration by Raptors are the Solution

Although these hawks are carnivorous raptors and known as bird-eating birds, they also eat many small mammals, such as chipmunks, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, mice, and bats.

Poisoned rodents kill the birds of prey eating them, so please think before using rodenticide in or around your home.

Protect Cooper’s Hawks Against Window Collisions

Another severe threat facing these birds of prey are window collisions.

These hawks are flocking to urban and suburban areas because of the food supply from backyard feeders, so it’s important to make windows visible to these birds that catch prey during high-speed chases.

Birds perceive reflections in the glass as a habitat they can fly into.

And combine the bird’s flying speeds when chasing songbirds with their inability to perceive reflections, and you have a dangerous mix.

Many of the Cooper’s Hawks brought to wildlife rehabilitators suffer severe injuries from window collisions such as head trauma and nerve injuries.

Archer, a beautiful male Cooper's Hawk and bird ambassador for Christine's Critters. Archer suffered a permanent wing nerve injury after colliding into a window chasing a songbird
Archer, a beautiful male Cooper’s Hawk and bird ambassador for Christine’s Critters. Archer suffered a permanent wing nerve injury after colliding into a window chasing a songbird

The damage can be so severe they can never make it back to the wild.

But you can help by installing screens or breaking up reflections by using film, paint, or bird savers decals on the outside of windows spaced no more than two inches high or two inches wide.

Where to Buy Window Decals

Several wildlife nonprofits and bird organizations sell window decals. You can Google them and support your favorite.

We recommend purchasing window clings from Christine’s Critters, a fabulous wildlife rehabilitator helping to save birds of prey in southern Connecticut.

Two of Christine’s Critters bird ambassadors are window collision survivors, so this is a cause that is very close to their hearts.

Taking these steps is essential to protecting these beautiful birds of prey.

Now grab your binoculars, get out, and see birds!

Comments

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  1. Great post Renee! Good balance re admiring this beautiful winged predator/serving up songbirds a la carte. Too funny. I had an American Kestrel checking out my back yard some years ago. Enjoy those birdies 😉

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