Friday, August 24, 2007


7:27:05PM I glance out and there is a Hawk, one of the Accipiters, double foot hopping around the backyard. It's an immature and it's hopping up nearly a foot, coming down, and hopping back up again. Sometimes with a double BAM, BAM at the end. Exactly the way very young Red-tails "kill" rocks and branches.

7:27:20PM The hawk stops for a moment. Prey in talons? I can't tell. Click. Unfortunately the flash goes off. It's late in the day, and we're getting the last few drops of the 15 inches of rain we've gotten this week. She hopping again and I can't keep up.

7:27:52PM Another pause, I hit the timer. She hops out of frame. I try to follow, but the click happens and it's nothing but a blur. She leans her beak down to her talons and comes back up with a bit of gray something--feather fluff?

Then the prey gets away, and makes it into the cover under the Spruce. The Hawk crashes after it.
7:28:30PM (Approximate) The hawk runs out from behind the Spruce chasing the prey, which is too short to ID in the grass. She makes another grab, glances up, sees me and takes off, w/prey?, N. Suddenly another immature, much smaller (a little brother?) seems to fly out of the Spruce from about six feet up and takes off after the first hawk. Were they double teaming the prey? Or is little brother just trying to mooch?

7:41PM The larger immature flies back into the deciduous tree near the Spruce and perches. Hotly followed by the smaller who perches next to her, she's off and so is he. And that is the last I see of them.

And here I am with one, count 'em one, photo to hopefully make an ID, as I wasn't sure during the interaction which passed nearly in the blink of any eye. I usually use the tail but didn't get a good look and the photo doesn't help. Roger Tory Peterson says that the streaks on a Cooper's don't go all the way down the belly. Well that's possible but hard to tell. Though the neck area does look "warm" color wise, which is also a possible clue for a Cooper's. There is always size, 14-23 inches for a Coopers, 10-14 for a Sharpie, but as I didn't run out with a yard stick...

Maybe back to a longer view for some perspective. Hmmm.

The Canadian Peregrine Fund has a very nice raptor ID section. (Too many people thinking they see Peregrines when they don't?) They've another possible clue. If in flight the head protrudes beyond the wings-Cooper's. I'd say that was the case with the male but I couldn't swear to it.

I stare at my single photo yet again. Wait a sec, what is that hawk staring at? Didn't she have the prey in her talons at that point? What is that in the grass?

I crop it and look closer.

So as not to put you through what I went through, I'll tell you right now, what I then thought is NOT the case. I looked and said, "Oh no, is that a Mourning Dove?" I'm filled with dread. When did I take that bad photo of Friend, Doorstep Dove's mate, today? It was late, because I decided it was too dark to really take crisp photos through glass. I start scrolling for the photo so I can check the time.

I saw the hawk at 7:27PM and I took the picture of Friend on the patio at-----7:19:46, approximately 7 minutes earlier. This is terrible. I then remember I'd looked out when I happened to see the hawk to check to see if Friend was still there and saw the Hopper instead.

By this time it's after 11PM and I've completely lost any shred of scientific objectivity. It's pitch dark but I have to know. I'm going out to look for feathers. I get the flashlight and march across the wet grass towards the spot, with a bad feeling in my stomach. The light hits gleaming eyes in the dark. One of the neighbor cats stands chewing. She's eating something. Boy, could this get any more horrible? The cat runs and I sweep the flashlight back and forth back and forth. Triangulate between myself, the house, and the Spruce. And I see...

A large rotting cucumber leaf. There isn't a feather anywhere. I take a picture of the leaf. It's in exactly the right spot. Back to the house to look at the previous "prey" photo.

Yup. Scroll back up and look again. Keep in mind that the "prey" photo has been enlarged in a major way, and it's from a completely different angle. but look, you can see the stem of the leaf between the grass blades on the left.

Besides , if I hadn't been freaking out I would have realized that I would have been able to see a dove above the grass blades when it ran for cover. The light bulb goes off.

What other large bird have I seen back there that I could mentally compare with the hawk for size? A Crow! I've seen an American Crow, very near there. Flip, flip, Corvus brachyrhyncos is 17-21 inches. Bingo! She was bigger than the Crow. Accipiter cooperii it is!

Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...


You had me goin' there!

Donegal Browne said...

You and me both, let me tell you.