Queen Of Her Realm
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There are at least four Cooper’s Hawks presently living at or visiting Sweetwater Wetlands, remarkable considering that the wetlands is at most a couple hundred acres in size. It’s a tribute to the abundance of potential prey — small birds and rodents — that there are so many of these predators sharing this small space. It is possible that these birds are related to each other, perhaps parents and offspring, but perhaps not.
There is a pecking order. The adults are dominant over the juveniles and among the adults one bird is larger than the others and dominates the landscape. This bird is almost certainly a female: with raptors females are invariably bigger than males and the females are dominant. I was at the wetlands a couple of weeks ago, early one morning, with a friend, Sam Angevine, and we watched this big hawk patrol her realm. At one point she alighted in a low mesquite tree and stared at us from a distance of only a few yards as we photographed her.
She is a beautiful bird. She probably weighs somewhat in excess of a pound. Her plumage is typical of an adult Cooper’s Hawk. The russet and buff colored breast is the trademark of an adult as is the dark gray cap on her head. The plumage on her outer wings, shoulders, and back is a deep slate gray.
Her eyes are a distinctive burnt orange. Whereas juvenile Cooper’s Hawks have straw yellow eyes, the adults have eyes that range in hue from burnt orange to ruby red.
This bird’s eyes may continue to darken as she ages. Her piercing stare is typical of a Cooper’s Hawk and it is her most memorable feature. That stare is functional. The bird is surveilling her realm. A Cooper’s Hawk often hunts from perch. It will pick a location that allows it a good view of its surroundings and scan the area, using its extraordinary vision. If it spots likely prey it will launch a sudden and ferocious attack.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture preferred setting, ISO 2000, f4.5 @ 1/800.