If you are committed to feeding birds and observing the wildlife activity around feeders, sooner or later you’ll see predation of one sort or another. Aside from domestic cats, which I believe are the number one backyard predator, two species likely to appear are the sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.
On several occasions I’ve seen sharp-shinned hawks attack my feeders and disappear so quickly that I was left wondering “what just happened”? Identification was based on the size and speed of the grayish blur, not detailed field marks. Like other bird hawks (accipiters), this species is well equipped for preying on small birds. Roughly jay-sized, with a long tail, it maneuvers well while flying at a high speed. On one occasion, a gold finch perched above my thistle seed feeder disappeared instantly in the grasp of a sharpie, as though hit by a bullet.
I hate to admit it, but there often seems to be a bit of luck associated with my more interesting and unusual photos. Such was the case with an experience with a Cooper’s hawk during a cold, snowy spell at the end of December, 2012. My two backyard feeding stations were bustling with bird activity, at least 50 birds and a half dozen species in all. I had the kitchen window cracked open a few inches to photograph redpolls when luck intervened. Something happened lightning fast: right before my eyes, everything disappeared – birds, squirrels – everything. Well, almost everything. Across the yard, in a cedar snag installed as a perch beside a feeding site, sat a crow-sized hawk. It moved once, to a better perch, sat motionless for a few seconds, and then flew. After reviewing the photos, I was able to determine exactly where it was perched, and the distance from head to tail: 16-17 inches. A small male Cooper’s hawk and large female sharp-shinned hawk can confuse even an experienced birder. In this case, the measured length and vertical streaking on the breast indicate that it was a juvenile Cooper’s hawk (the juvenile status might be the reason it came up empty handed!).
All photos by NB Hunter, 2012