Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cooper's Hawk on the Hunt

Last weekend we were just about to get in the car from our apartment when Maureen spotted a hawk fly in low over the parking lot and perched several feet off the ground about 50 feet away from us. Luckily, we had been on our way to see Spot-breasted Orioles, so Maureen already had her camera in hand. Once we recovered from realizing our incredible luck, we quickly determined that it was a juvenal Cooper's Hawk. [note the streaking pattern on the breast, as well as overall size, compared with a juvenal Sharp-shinned Hawk]. 

It stayed put for several minutes before making the short flight to the tree right above us, where it started stalking squirrels from branch to branch. Neither of us had ever seen a hawk hunt prey before, and it was amazing to watch the young Accipiter navigate the insides of the trees. Each time it made a move, though, the squirrel was just quick enough to get out of the way.
Talk about a 180! 

After several near-misses, one of the squirrels made a run for it and scurried along the top of the tennis court fence. The Cooper's swept down, but had waited too long to make its move and passed up an easy meal. Again, it resorted to trying to catch one in the trees, before giving up shortly afterward. Then, it turned toward us and flew just over our heads, seeming for a split-second to be coming straight at us. Birding certainly isn't for the weak of heart!
He's got us in his sights!

One adventure behind us, we got in the car and drove to a park in Lighthouse Point that we've known to be a reliable location for Spot-breasted Orioles. Although we haven't spent much time among this species, this south Florida specialty is one of the birds I'm going to miss most when we leave here, given its beautiful bright orange plumage, melodious song, and limited North American range. We stayed and watched them chase each other back and forth between the trees for 20 minutes before leaving to put in our shift at the nature center.

Juvenile Spot-breasted Oriole


  1. Great photos! How fortunate to walk out your front door to a hawk hunting squirrels. Too bad it didn't catch one - that would have made for a few additional shades of red.

  2. Wow, love the pictures! We saw a Cooper's Hawk in Beacon Hill park in Victoria, BC last summer. It was chasing hummingbirds. We couldn't stick around too long to see if it was succesfull, that was probably better for me:)