Cooper’s Hawk — An Image Of Toughness

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I very much like this image that I made of a female Cooper’s Hawk about two weeks ago.

I think that this picture speaks volumes about her personality: hyper-alert, independent, and fierce.

Cooper’s Hawks are the raptors that I see most often while driving around Tucson.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see at least one of these birds.  I often see them perched on tree limbs or utility poles but I also see them in flight, hurtling through the air low to the ground while hunting for prey.  The other evening Louisa and I were sitting on our back patio drinking coffee when a Cooper’s Hawk came rocketing through our yard barely five feet above the ground.

These relatively small hawks (less than one-half the body mass of a Red-tailed Hawk) are aggressive predators.  They chase down smaller birds in flight with a single-minded intensity that sometimes sends them crashing into bushes and other objects in their pursuit of prey.  They are highly territorial and defensive.  Another raptor, even one that is much larger than a Cooper’s Hawk, enters the hawk’s territory at its peril.  When nesting, these birds will defend their nest at all costs.  My friend Sam has a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks in his yard, with at least four hatchlings presently in the nest.  The other day he was dive-bombed by one of the parent birds as he observed the hatchlings.

The hawk depicted here is a young female, almost certainly in her second year.  I know that she’s a female from her size: she’s very large for a Cooper’s Hawk, and female hawks are invariably much bigger than are the males.  I can tell her age from her plumage.  As Cooper’s Hawks mature the plumage on their backs and wings turns gray.  They acquire dark gray “caps” on their heads and their breasts assume a russet and cream-colored pattern.  This bird’s plumage is that of a juvenile bird.  However, her eyes, burnt orange in color, are those of a maturing hawk.  Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks have straw-yellow eyes.

Image made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/1000.

One response to “Cooper’s Hawk — An Image Of Toughness”

  1. Tom Munson says :

    This is a terrific image, Steve. Great work.

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