Photographed in southwest Houston. Several years ago a birding friend told me about a Cooper's hawk nest and he agreed to show it to me. We met one morning off of West Bellfort and we walked to a large wooded area that was undeveloped. As we came into an opening in the thick woods he said,"Oh, there he is!" I was able to snap a couple of images before the hawk came at us. He knocked my cap off. We left immediately, if not sooner.
This is the adult (mature) Cooper's hawk plumage.
Among the bird world’s most skillful fliers, Cooper’s Hawks are common woodland hawks that tear through cluttered tree canopies in high speed pursuit of other birds. You’re most likely to see one prowling above a forest edge or field using just a few stiff wingbeats followed by a glide. With their smaller lookalike, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawks make for famously tricky identifications. Both species are sometimes unwanted guests at bird feeders, looking for an easy meal (but not one of sunflower seeds).
If you put out seed for birds in your backyard, there’s a chance you’ll also attract the attention of a Cooper’s Hawk. While catching smaller birds is just doing what comes naturally for a Cooper’s Hawk, many of us would prefer not to share the responsibility for the deaths. If a Cooper’s Hawk takes up residence in your yard, you can take your feeders down for a few days and the hawk will move on.
Dashing through vegetation to catch birds is a dangerous lifestyle. In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially of the furcula, or wishbone.
A Cooper's Hawk captures a bird with its feet and kills it by repeated squeezing. Falcons tend to kill their prey by biting it, but Cooper’s Hawks hold their catch away from the body until it dies. They’ve even been known to drown their prey, holding a bird underwater until it stopped moving.
Once thought averse to towns and cities, Cooper’s Hawks are now fairly common urban and suburban birds. Some studies show their numbers are actually higher in towns than in their natural habitat, forests. Cities provide plenty of Rock Pigeon and Mourning Dove prey. Though one study in Arizona found a downside to the high-dove diet: Cooper’s Hawk nestlings suffered from a parasitic disease they acquired from eating dove meat.
Life is tricky for male Cooper’s Hawks. As in most hawks, males are significantly smaller than their mates. The danger is that female Cooper’s Hawks specialize in eating medium-sized birds. Males tend to be submissive to females and to listen out for reassuring call notes the females make when they’re willing to be approached. Males build the nest, then provide nearly all the food to females and young over the next 90 days before the young fledge.
Photographed at Brazos Bend State Park on a very cold January day.
Whether wheeling over a swamp forest or whistling plaintively from a riverine park, a Red-shouldered Hawk is typically a sign of tall woods and water. It’s one of our most distinctively marked common hawks, with barred reddish-peachy underparts and a strongly banded tail. In flight, translucent crescents near the wingtips help to identify the species at a distance. These forest hawks hunt prey ranging from mice to frogs and snakes.
Although the American Crow often mobs the Red-shouldered Hawk, sometimes the relationship is not so one-sided. They may chase each other and try to steal food from each other. They may also both attack a Great Horned Owl and join forces to chase the owl out of the hawk's territory.
The Great Horned Owl often takes nestling Red-shouldered Hawks, but the hawk occasionally turns the tables. While a Red-shouldered Hawk was observed chasing a Great Horned Owl, its mate took a young owl out of its nest and ate it.
Red-shouldered Hawks return to the same nesting territory year after year. One Red-shouldered Hawk occupied a territory in southern California for 16 consecutive years.
By the time they are five days old, nestling Red-shouldered Hawks can shoot their feces over the edge of their nest. Bird poop on the ground is a sign of an active nest.
The Red-shouldered Hawk is divided into five subspecies. The four eastern forms contact each other, but the West Coast form is separated from the eastern forms by 1600 km (1000 mi). The northern form is the largest. The form in very southern Florida is the palest, having a gray head and very faint barring on the chest.
This is a not so common hawk in southeast Texas. This one was photographed in the Hill Country. I once watch a pair of juvenile Swainson's hawks try to catch some squirrels in Memorial Park a few years ago. The squirrels evaded the pair by seeking shelter in one of the ball field dugout.
A classic species of the open country of the Great Plains and the West, Swainson’s Hawks soar on narrow wings or perch on fence posts and irrigation spouts. These elegant gray, white, and brown hawks hunt rodents in flight, wings held in a shallow V, or even run after insects on the ground. In fall, they take off for Argentine wintering grounds—one of the longest migrations of any American raptor—forming flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel.
The Swainson’s Hawk initially suffered from a case of mistaken identity, when a specimen collected in Canada in 1827 and illustrated by William Swainson was confused with the common buzzard (Buteo buteo) of Europe. A nephew of Emperor Napoleon eventually corrected the error: in 1832, while working in Philadelphia, French biologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte identified the hawk as a new species and named it after the original illustrator—although he based his own description on a drawing by John James Audubon.
Swainson’s Hawk feed their chicks the usual “three r’s” of the North American buteo diet: rodents, rabbits, and reptiles. But when they’re not breeding, the adults switch to a diet made up almost exclusively of insects, especially grasshoppers and dragonflies.
Groups of soaring or migrating hawks are called “kettles.” When it comes to forming kettles, Swainson’s Hawks are overachievers: they form flocks numbering in the tens of thousands, often mixing with Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, and Mississippi Kites to create a virtual river of migrating birds. Their daytime migrations create a much-anticipated spectacle for birders who in fall and spring form their own flocks at well-known migratory points in the southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America to watch the birds stream by.