Cooper's hawk lives on small birds

Sunday, January 1, 2012

This is a Cooper's hawk sitting on a porch railing. It is one of North America's birds of prey. With a body length of less than 18 inches and a wingspan of between 2 and 3 feet, the Cooper's hawk is smaller than the red-tailed hawk (chicken hawk) but slightly larger than its look-alike cousin, the sharp-shinned hawk.

Cooper's hawks subsist almost exclusively by catching and eating birds smaller than themselves. Because male Cooper's hawks are smaller than females, the male must keep his distance or risk being caught and eaten. Only during breeding season when a female returns the male's mating calls is it truly safe for a male to approach a female Cooper's hawk.

The male Cooper's hawk builds a nest at a fork of a main limb and upper trunk of a big tree. Usually about two-thirds of the way up the tree, the nest will look like a pile of sticks. A Cooper's hawk nest is difficult to find. The male feeds the young.

If songbirds at your winter bird feeder suddenly scatter and are slow to return, it could have been caused by a Cooper's hawk swooping in for an easy meal. A Cooper's hawk may stay on a perch a short distance from the feeder and make several attempts before catching its prey.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.

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