Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cooper's Hawk, Tucson

Kids were shouting, running and hitting baseballs into the air 100 yards away, but this Cooper’s Hawk granted them little attention.  She surely could see the game from her lower limb perch, but she wasn’t interested in any of it. 

Constantly rotating her head she didn’t miss much in her field of view as to food choices though.  Vole holes dotted the ball field where the kids played, so I’m guessing she knew about the voles. 

Making good use of the morning, she puffed-up, fluffed-up and shook out her coat of feathers, while never loosing her perspective or sense of place.  If there was a meal scurrying around nearby, she had it pinned.

Her mate sat 50 feet to her left, partly obscured from my angle of view. The male Cooper’s Hawk is noticeably smaller and sleeker, but they’re similar in color and pattern. Both have vivid red eyes, mottled breasts and sculpted bodies.  Weighing a pound to a pound and a half respectively, they define the word predator as in eagle, falcon or owl.

Not missing much with 180-degree vision, the female hawk knew I was there, but didn’t seem to mind me either.  She looked right at me or possibly right through me, as she gazed calmly in all directions from her shady spot in a mesquite tree.  I had ample opportunities to photograph her from the front, back and both sides and felt I was finished shooting when the attack came.

Suddenly and loudly an alarm call went up from her mate. She twisted her neck to face it…saw it…recognized it…crouched down for a quick retreat…going…gone…WOW! 

I never actually saw the attack, only the escape. I was watching her through the lens as it happened.  No contact was made.  Satisfied I had enough in the camera and she was gone anyway, I picked up my gear and slowly walked to the tree where she had been sitting, just out of curiosity.  

Coming around the tree trunk I looked up…saw a Merlin looking down at me and froze.  He was sitting on the same spot where the Cooper’s Hawk had just been. I wasn’t expecting the Merlin and he wasn’t expecting me.  We were equally surprised to discover each other.  We were 10-feet apart!  I couldn’t do anything picture-wise and the Merlin wasn’t sticking around to pose like the Cooper’s Hawk.

Stunned, I didn’t know what to do, but the Merlin did.

The Merlin was off in a flurry of blue-grey feathers.  His barred-tail-leaving was the only ID he gave me to remember him by. I stood there slack-jawed for a second. Might I see an attack/escape event like this in my life ever again, I think not?  That was a double-WOW!

Some days observing wildlife are just okay, some are satisfactory and some are downright GREAT!


This is a Merlin photographed in Lake Park, Milwaukee as an example.  The Merlin is smaller than the female Cooper’s Hawk, but more aggressive.