Cooper’s Hawk — An Urban Success Story

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Recently I photographed an adult Cooper’s Hawk in one of Tucson’s public parks.  The hawk was doing what Cooper’s Hawks often do: lurking partially concealed amid the branches of a large Cottonwood.  The bird in this image is a typical adult bird, with its burnt orange eyes, and its gray, pale rufous, and white plumage.

It is easily identifiable, even from a considerable distance, by its erect posture, its slim profile, and its very long tail.

Cooper’s Hawks probably are the most often seen bird of prey in the Tucson area.  There are hundreds of these birds and scarcely a day goes by when I don’t see one or two of them as I drive around.  Their presence here in large numbers presents a bit of paradox because Cooper’s Hawks aren’t really desert dwellers.   This is a woodland species that likes large trees and at least some water nearby.  So, how is it that Cooper’s Hawks are such a success in this town in the middle of a burning desert?

We only need look in the mirror to learn the answer.  Humans have a penchant for modifying habitat.  We tend to plow vegetation under and plant new and different flora in its place.  We eradicate some predators, leaving room for others to supplant the ones we’ve eliminated.  We drain bodies of water and then install other water sources.  And, so on.

In the case of Cooper’s Hawks we inadvertently created the ideal habitat for them.  As humans developed the Tucson area we bulldozed the mesquite scrub and creosote bushes and planted trees in most neighborhoods.  We added water in the form of swimming pools, ornamental ponds and fountains, and bird baths.  We fell in love with songbirds and so, we hung feeders from our trees.  Some species of songbirds rejoiced, flocked to the feeders, and bred in abundance.  Our swimming pools and our feeders also attracted doves, who are prolific breeders in their own right.  And, the Cooper’s Hawks were delighted, because we had given them everything they needed to succeed.

Nowadays, many a neighborhood in Tucson has its complement of Cooper’s Hawks doing what Cooper’s Hawks always do — preying on the now-abundant songbirds and doves.  They use our trees as bases of operations for their raids on smaller birds and they build their nests in them as well.  These hawks truly owe us a debt of gratitude, not that it would be in their nature to be thankful.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f8 @ 1/1000.

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