The wild birds at the bird feeders are always on the lookout for danger. When I say always, I mean constantly watching for any movement that may be a threat to them. They know instinctively that the only real threat of being caught would be by a hawk. Not just any hawk has the ability to catch a small bird. The Red-tailed hawks, which are quite common here, don't even bother to try to catch the fast, nimble songbirds. There is little hope that the large Redtail could out-fly the smaller birds, so they concentrate on prey that is mainly earthbound—mice and voles, snakes and insects and so on.
The hawks that put fear into the hearts of the songbirds are in a family of hawks known as accipiters. These hawks are built for short distance speeds, fast enough to overtake and catch smaller birds on the wing. Also known as blue darters, the family of accipiters consists of the Blue jay-sized Sharp-shinned hawk, the noticeably larger Cooper's hawk, and the Red-tailed sized Goshawk. All have a similar gray-blue plumage with a long tail and short, powerful wings. They are capable of maneuvering through dense cover at blinding speeds in pursuit of their favorite prey, small birds.
The little Sharp-shinned hawk concentrates on catching birds that are smaller than himself. It would be an accomplishment for him to catch a bird as large as a Blue jay or Grackle, although he can do it if he has to.
The hawk that is most feared by the smaller wild birds is the Cooper's hawk, a crow-sized hawk of the woodlands. He flies low through the woods and along the edges in hopes of surprising small birds and catching them before they can reach cover. As with all birds of prey, the males are smaller than the females. The juvenile plumage of the Cooper's hawk is a mix of shades of brown, cream and white. The adults are dark blue/gray over the back and wings, and a barring of blush orange over their breast. They gaze intently through blood-red eyes. The Cooper's hawk's short wings and longish tail helps him to maneuver quickly as he dashes through the woods. His long, narrow toes are each equipped with deadly sharp, black talons, giving them an edge at the very last instant of the hunt.
As compared to their raptor cousins, the Red-tailed hawks, who are more of an easy-going, sitting in the sunshine type, the Cooper's are extremely high strung & wired with intense energy. They seem to always be on the move and often I just catch a glimpse of one as he disappears into thick cover.
A smaller sub-adult Sharp-shinned hawk has been raiding the bird feeders a couple of times a week, but rarely catches a meal. I hadn't seen a Cooper's hawk in the yard for over a month until this morning. The handsome little blue darter surprised the feeder birds as he zipped out from behind a large cedar tree. In a blur of wings and flash of talons, he snatched a Junco out of midair and disappeared into the woods. It's an amazing thing to see how Nature gives to those in need.
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