“Country” Cooper’s Hawk

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It’s been several months since I posted an image of a Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawks are ubiquitous in Tucson and in its suburbs and scarcely a day goes by when I do not see at least one or two of these birds.  They seem to be everywhere: on utility poles, flying over neighborhoods, and in trees.

These hawks are much less common when one gets out of town.  Indeed, in the countryside surrounding Tucson a Cooper’s Hawk is a rare sight.  I photographed this bird on a rural road at least 30 miles from Tucson and, frankly, I was surprised to see it there.

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What accounts for the abundance of Cooper’s Hawks in Tucson and their scarcity out in the country?  Cooper’s Hawks, it seems, are one of those species that have taken advantage of human activity to prosper and increase their numbers.  Tucson residents often put up bird feeders to attract songbirds to their yards.  Additionally, a lot of ornamental vegetation planted in Tucson and its environs — plus the large number of residential swimming pools — creates habitat for small birds and, especially, for doves, who often densely populate these mini-habitats.  The Cooper’s Hawks, which prey heavily on small birds, find that these little backyard habitats create ideal targets for their predation.  And, so, they hang out near residences and they grow fat on the many small birds that they find there.

It’s a different story out in the country.  There, the smaller birds are dispersed over large areas of open terrain.  There’s much less cover from which the Cooper’s Hawks may practice their ambush tactics.  That makes it harder for the Cooper’s Hawks, not only to find prey, but to catch it, and consequently, there are fewer of them.

I greatly admire these hawks.  They are among the fiercest of avian predators.   They are avian kamikazes, incurring enormous risks to their personal well-being as they dive headlong into shrubbery and dense vegetation in pursuit of prey.  Cooper’s Hawks often injure themselves from collisions with trees and shrubs caused by their hyper-aggressive hunting tactics.   They are tough, and the ones that I see out in the country are survivors in a very difficult environment.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f8 @ 1/2000.

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