Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cooper's Hawk

Click on photo to enlarge

I've been noticing an unexplainable dearth of birds in our yard lately. The suet cages are full, the birdbaths too, yet there's been very few woodpeckers, nuthatches, or chickadees and almost no finches hanging around.

Very odd, I was thinking, until I scoped this Cooper's Hawk in a tree about 200 feet from our deck. I saw it in another tree a few days ago just sitting and staring at our yard.

Now don't get me wrong, the hawk is quite welcome, simply another member of the neighborhood, and I've seen them here before, actually swooping down through the yard sending the rest of the wildlife into instant hiding.

I was thinking maybe it was attracted to the chickens, but I can't imagine this smallish hawk, about the size of a crow, actually taking one of my huge hens. But if it thinks it can manage that, I say, more power to it.

If it actually did get one though, I guess I'd confine the chickens inside the coop for awhile until the hawk moved on.

Many birds visit our yard and there are also some field mice about and I suspect those are more of interest to the hawk than my giant Black Australorps, but then again, maybe even little hawks dream big dreams.

Ed Abbey often speculated that Turkey Vultures hovering over him during his desert treks were possibly thinking, "Where there's life, there's hope".

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim:"I was thinking maybe it was attracted to the chickens, but I can't imagine this smallish hawk, about the size of a crow, actually taking one of my huge hens."

Let me assure you they can manage it. We've had a concentration of hawks, and especially Cooper's hawks this year. West Nile took out a large number of the crows and other birds and the hawks might be a bit pinched.

The MO with a Cooper's hawk and chickens is they get one in an isolated area, hit it, more than once if necessary, and kill it. They will attach to the neck and ride the chicken until it is dead. Then they rip it open and take out a few bits, liver first, and then away. They don't intend to take the whole bird with them. They will return if they can for more from the same carcass.

Watch your hens! But hens are pretty canny and wary on their own.

Last fall I was below a wood of pine saplings when a Cooper's hawk hit one of my hens just above the wood and out of sight of the attack donkey. When I came through the grove the hawk was away in a flash. We had chicken tamales that night.

It will balance out again in a few months.

5:52 PM  
Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Just to second what eleutheros said - they most certainly will take chickens! Cooper's are known as "chicken hawks" among country people.

My brother keeps a few chickens and lost quite a few last winter to a Cooper's - once the hawk learned how to get inside the fenced enclosure around the coop he kept returning for an easy meal.

They are beautiful and awesome birds, though!

6:05 PM  
Blogger Norene Griffin said...

i saw (or maybe i should say recognized?) my first cooper's hawk just a couple of weeks ago on my morning walk to my bus stop. i doubled back to get a good look at it so i could id it later. beautiful bird. i hope yours doesn't get a chicken dinner.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

attack donkey?

8:37 PM  
Blogger Madcap said...

I've never seen a Cooper's hawk before - very exotic to my northern eyes. Puts me in mind of a South America dancing girl for some reason, all feather boas and flashing eyes.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kara:"attack donkey?"

Oooh, yes ineed. Donkeys are the most territorial of animals. Once they realize the range that is theirs, and inventory what animals belong there, that's it. Nothing and no one else is permitted.

The dogs won't go into the fenced field unless accompanied by a human for fear of the donkey. I think that fellow knows what grasshoppers belong there and what don't. A goat bleating or a chicken's distress call sends him fetching with ears laid back and eyes ablaze.

Beter homestead security you can't have than an attack donkey.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

eleutheros & laurahinnj-

Like I was saying in the original post, I have seen them here before, and wondered if they were eyeing the chickens.

I thought maybe the name Cooper's Hawk came about because they frequented peoples chicken coops until I did a little research and found they're named after naturalist William Cooper.

I had apparently forgotten that these are the famed "chicken hawks" of my San Fernando Valley childhood, because I'm sure I knew it back then.

So thanks for the heads up, I'll be keeping a closer eye on the hens and am today working on heightening the chicken yard fence so the birds can't get out into the most open area of the yard.

And yes, Eleutheros, the hens are quite wary and quick, I've often seen them dart instantly under the low branches of our Sequoias when they see a moving shadow cast from overhead.

They also once pounced on, and killed, a Stellar Jay who had momentarily landed in the chicken yard, gotta watch them chickens too, and I could show you a few scars from spur wounds inflicted by "Arnold the Roosternator".

norene & madcapmum-

Cooper's Hawks really are beautiful birds, and I'm enjoying this ones presence, but I'm also taking steps to prevent it from getting one of my prized and prolific Black Australorps.


Yes, I want to hear more about Eleutheros "attack donkey" myself??

That phrase reminded me of when my dear old donkey from the 1960s, Sarah Lee, apparently got her nose in a hornets nest or something, and came charging after my friend Charlie & I as we were putting in a horseshoe pit. She chased us around the house 4 or 5 times---nose down, nostrils flared and bucking with a crazed look in her eyes---before she finally calmed down.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


Blogger is acting weird again, I see you added this comment at 9:27, but I didn't see it when I posted mine at 9:54, and my comments counter only reported 3 when there were actually 5.

Thanks for the "attack donkey" update, it brings a smile to my face. Does this delightful character have a name?

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


His name is "Peles". The ancient Jews were polytheistic and a principle god was the Donkey God Peles, I think the Greeks spelled it "Palles". The other semitic people had the same diety but reckoned it female and so many of the ancient statues are hermaphroditic. This diety have it's name to Palestine = Place where Peles is Worshipped.

Now, concerning your Roostenator:

Seems that the hens were getting no relief with the overly aggressive roosters so for a break the chicken keeper put a bell on each rooster. Soon the hens knew a rooster was approaching and fled much to the continuing frustration of the roosters. But one rooster puzzled over the problem and figured out how to take the bell's clappe in his beak and silence it. So when he sneaked up on a hen, it was a complete surprise to her.

That's how he came to be nominated for the Pullet-Surprize.

And the No-Bell prize as well.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


now my smile is outright laughter!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Hi Jim & Peg,
Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day and commenting on my memories of the Chinese folks in our small town.

You have some amazing photos here! Judging from your bio and from what I've read in some of your posts, it sounds like you are living the American dream. Your place is beautiful, as are your hearts for the way you commune so with nature.

This is a great blog! I will return for more :)

5:55 PM  
Blogger arcolaura said...

We have Cooper's hawks around here - I recall Mom talking about them, up in the hills, and I think I've had occasional glimpses of them around town. From my Peterson's guide, I would guess madcapmum's area is just off the edge of their summer range.

Mom has had turkey vultures circling over her in the garden. She probably looks a bit promising when she's slowly working her way along a bed. She got a bit nervous about her quiet focussed work habit, in the rather isolated garden plot, when she heard that a cougar had been sighted on their place, and recalled, just days before, seeing a couple of deer go past the garden, running flat out.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great photo Jim- Coopers are very aggressive hunters and will actively dive into brush/cover after a bird. I've never seen one go after anything larger than a downy woodpecker though.. and I seriously doubt if they would attack your chickens- a Northern Goshawk would, but I'm doubtful that a Coopers hawk would.
It's time when alot of birds are seeking new territories in your area, as it will soon be mating season.. so that may be another reason for the lack of birds in your yard. Once a hawk finds a food source though (feeder birds) they will return often.. after all, they need to eat to survive too. They eliminate the weak and unhealthy species, which isn't a bad thing. It's quite true that only the strongest survive in nature.. and Coopers hawks are strong, I've seen them pick off chipmunks from our yard.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cindy:"I've never seen one go after anything larger than a downy woodpecker though.. and I seriously doubt if they would attack your chickens"

I know that's a popular truism among raptor fans, but I've watched them do it.

To be fair, for every chicken they've ever taken, they've probably taken a hundred mice from the garden. Here we have many,many chicken predators, but most all of them are nocturnal. The chickens are locked up tight at night in a predator proof coop and during the day any four legged predator (feral dogs and coyotes) won't cross the 'donkey zone'. This has distilled our chicken loss to predators down to hawks, and all of them have been Cooper's hawks. They WILL and do attack mature chickens.

2:25 PM  
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10:12 PM  

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