Sunday, April 20, 2014

How To Tell the Difference Between a Cooper's Hawk and a Sharpshinned Hawk Plus I Find a Pair.

I'd been picking up sticks out of the yard, and considering whether to make another sparrow pile or perhaps  another giant yard nest when a hawk soared over my head.  Hmmm.  Looks rather long tailed for a buteo.  I watched as it flew into a tree and wove amongst the branches maybe three blocks down.  Accipiter!

I noted the tree against a chimney from a sight line over roofs from where I was standing .  It  looked like several of blocks away.  I dumped the sticks,  got the camera and as I was in a hurry, jumped into the car and took off.

I followed the sight line to the tree, in which I thought I'd seen the hawk enter.  Nothing.

A friend had said a few days before  she thought she'd seen some hawks in a tree doing "something odd" in front of a house quite a number of blocks away.  Upon description the "something odd" might well have been copulation. I get back in the car and keep going further south.

  There were three teenagers sitting on a porch across the street from the house number I'd been given so I asked them if they'd seen any hawks lately.

Nope, they hadn't.  I scanned the trees in front of the noted house and there was what looked a whole lot like a nest.  

See top photo.

Well it looks a bit like a crow's nest but not quite.  Also too exposed.  A squirrel dray that had lost its leaves?  Wrong size twigs. 

That's when a hawk, (Coopers maybe?) flew over my head to a tree in the backyard of the  house where the mystery nest was in a front yard tree.  Bird had disappeared.  You never know what you might see when you bring the photo up at home.  He had to be there somewhere. 
 Well not necessarily. They are very big about flying straight through thickets of  trees without wiggling a twig.
     I keep looking.  What is that center? Is that a tail?

Yes it is.  But at the time I didn't have the ability to zoom in this far.  You can see it reasonably well with a cropped photo but at the time I wasn't sure of what  I was looking at.  So I looked over at what could be a nest.
 Then took a couple of steps toward it.  Saw something  in the corner of my eye and looked back at the possible adult entry area from earlier.
Is that a hawk at the top of that evergreen?
 No, in this case it IS the top of that evergreen.  Sigh.
I look back left.
My my, wait just a minute.   Look who has abandoned cover and is exposing himself.  Well as much as an Accipiter EVER exposes himself.
I do believe that there are a couple of bright red eyes staring at me.  Okay, I hate to admit it.  And I'm sure I'll get used to them but a mature Cooper's bright red eyes do give me the creeps a little.

Which brings us to the question of just which species this bird is.
Ah ha!  A Cooper's Hawk!  Now let us talk once again about how one tells the difference.  That leg doesn't look particularly like a stick, which many guides  will tell you the legs of a Sharp-shinned look like.  Not exactly a no fool field mark by any stretch of the imagination. 
(When I got home I looked at Peterson's Hawks of North America and found one.  Yes, I use Peterson's.   Sibley's is for other things though I do find the drawing and paintings look more  than a bit like stuffed bird skins.  For a pure ID field mark, I go with Peterson's everytime.)

And what is that field mark for this species?  For a mature adult Cooper's Hawk this is a jewel, for as we have discussed numerous times it isn't all that easy to decide only on the mark of size or the neck or no neck possibility for positive ID. Though I admit that those can be helpful.  But do you know the sure way to tell a mature Coop from a mature  Sharpie?

The color of the top of the head, that dark grey,  does not continue down  to meet the feather color of the back like a Sharpie's does.  A Coopers hawk wears a "cap" and has lighter feathers at the back of the neck before going into the darker feathers of the back and wings. 

Still obviously watching me, then...
Suddenly the hawk looks North.

And a different hawk zips over my head and whips into the tree across the street.
I go across the street and look up the trunk.  Bingo!
I think this is the mate.
On the next shot, my flash accidentally  goes off and she flips off the branch and is gone.
 I look back, and the other hawk is gone.  Misdirection by a pair, it works nearly every time.  I scan further South, and keep going.   No hawk.

There he is!  And he knows I know but keeps sitting.  I had read that some Cooper's Hawks are becoming comparatively human habituated and this may be one of the them.

Having "looked" at the hawks for some minutes, and it is getting dark, I decide that it is time to leave them in peace.

No question I'll be visiting  them again soon.

Plus George and Martha of Highbridge Park have a Hatch!!!
Go to the links panel on the right and click on Rob Schmunk's link, Morningside Park Hawks for pix and details.  
Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne


Sally said...

Your ability to spot birds in the trees AMAZES me! I wonder if those Coopers will be hunting your yard. I assume you are making anew stick pile :)

Donegal Browne said...

Actually I have another stick pile underway even though the Cooper's nest is across town...the town isn't that big. And they do tend to fly over my yard on their way home from somewhere else.

Discovered the other day that they have made two nests. Evidentally like Red-tails there is a choice involved though still have not seen a hawk on either. Though because of placement they could be on and unless one sees a switch, like a hawk in the Cathedral nest, there is no way to know anyone is there.