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Peregrine Falcons aren’t the only birds of prey that live in our neighborhood. Cooper’s Hawks are the predator that I see most often when I drive around our community. I often see as many as three or four Cooper’s Hawks within a two-or three mile radius of our our suburban Tucson home.
Cooper’s Hawks are accipiters, a unique family of birds of prey. There are accipiters living in much of the world. North America has three species: Sharp-shinned Hawk; Cooper’s Hawk; and Northern Goshawk. Cooper’s Hawks populate the Tucson area in substantial numbers. Indeed, they are the dominant diurnal raptor species in the Tucson area.
I photographed this individual, large for her species, and almost certainly a female, early one morning about a week ago.
She displays the characteristics and plumage that are typical of an adult Cooper’s Hawk. She has a long tail and relatively short wings. Her plumage on her back and outer wings is a dusty gray and she sports a dark cap on her head. Her breast is buff-colored, patterned with white. Her eyes are a deep burnt orange (some adult Cooper’s Hawks have red eyes).
She weighs about a pound, or slightly more than that. That’s about 2/3 the body mass of the Peregrine Falcon that I featured yesterday and about 1/2 the mass of a Red-tailed Hawk.
Cooper’s Hawks are opportunistic hunters, but often, their prey of choice is smaller birds. A Cooper’s Hawk often hunts birds, such as doves or sparrows, capturing them on the wing. This bird isn’t a speed demon like a Peregrine Falcon but she is quite quick in level flight. Her short wings and long tail render her highly maneuverable. Cooper’s Hawks are legendary for their ability to fly at high speed through seemingly impenetrable vegetation as they chase down their prey. They are also known for their aggressiveness. There are few creatures of any size that are as fierce as a Cooper’s Hawk.
These hawks are generally thought of as a woodland species, living at the junction of forests and open fields. So, why is Tucson a Mecca for Cooper’s Hawks? The answer lies in the way that we humans have modified the local habitat. Our desert is not a particularly hospital environment for these birds. I doubt seriously that there would be any Cooper’s Hawks living in the Tucson area but for human habitation. We’ve “improved” the area in a way that Cooper’s Hawks just love. We’ve planted trees, we’ve installed swimming pools and spas, and most importantly, we’ve hung bird feeders in our yards. So, inadvertently, we’ve created a paradise for Cooper’s Hawks. I’ve never seen one of these birds express gratitude, however. It’s not in their nature to do so.
Images made with a Canon R5, Canon RF 800mm f11 lens, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 1250, f11 @ 1/2000, -1/3 stop exposure compensation.