January 6, 2011
WHEN YOU FEED BIRDS YOU CREATE A SMALL FOOD WEB
The Cooper's Hawk in this picture is just checking out the area for hunting potential. Overwhelmingly, the Cooper's Hawk's diet consists of birds but they will take anything that is small enough to overwhelm and kill.
It is perched just outside my window and is not hunting because this perch is only about 5 feet from ground-level and it is right in the open, next to my feeder, i.e. no bird would miss seeing it and would stay right out of the area. Literally, the Cooper's Hawk is the terror of all other birds that are the same size as it or smaller and all these birds stay as far away from if as possible.
This particular Cooper's detected me shooting it though the window and took off a moment after this image was taken. When a Cooper's lays in wait to ambush a bird, it selects a high perch that has a clear, open line directly to the seed feeding platform, where it knows the pigeons will group.. There, it just waits motionlessly for awhile hoping that the pigeons will come in to feed. As long as it stays motionless, they are much less likely to detect it when they come in to feed, even if it is somewhat in the open, because there are other objects or pieces of things in the background that the pigeons visually search for danger in their surroundings. They are primarily looking for movement and very focused on the seed source, the feeding platform. By perching in a spot that has an open, direct line to the feeder, the hawk does not have to change directions at all when it attacks toward the prey and so is much less likely to be detected by the pigeon's vision until it is right on top of them and then.....it is just too late. At that point it just depends on which pigeon becomes food for the hawk. It will intercept a pigeon, take it down to the ground, wrestle to get on top and pierce the pigeon's body with its very long talons. I once happened upon and surprised a Cooper's that was "mantled" over its pigeon prey, just below a bird feeder in the winter. Instantaneously the pigeon escaped from the talons of the distracted hawk, got out from under it and flewlike blazing hell from the area. The pigeon, with hawk in close pursuit, banked sharply around the corner of a far off building and disappeared. I suspect the pigeon escaped..
But I believe that the Cooper's Hawk, with its ambush hunting technique, has a high rate of success. It is a waste of time and energy for a Cooper's Hawk to chase a pigeon........and they generally do not.. Pigeons, when under attack, can fly at blistering speeds; probably faster than any Cooper's Hawk can. You see, the Cooper's Hawk is one of he Accipiters, not Falcons. It has short, rounded wings but a VERY long, NARROW tail array, perfect as a rudder when shooting through woodlands. Among hawks, it is dubbed the "Darter" of the North American woodlands. And the Cooper's is an ambush game. Oftentimes they will perch in a leaved tree, along woodland's edge and attack a bird that happens into the open area. The chase may continue into the woods on the opposite side of the woodland edge, where the Cooper's may tai an advantage because it is an outstanding maneuverer.
When the hawk attacks it drops from the perch, directly at the group of pigeons, so that the pigeons are apparently not picking up any motion until the hawk is zooming in through the last several feet.
Lesson: At first I would bang my closed hand on the side of the window frame to scare off those annoying pigeons. I did it for weeks. Gradually I realized that If I was going to enjoy feeding birds I was going to have to tolerate the pigeons. It is that simple. And along with that came the Cooper's. That is life. That is nature. That is the way it is. At least to this point in time. If you have any suggestions just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
On November 9, 2012 I was outside and noticed a large group of pigeons on my front roof, just above the feeding platform. I clapped my hands to scare them off. They have become conditioned to my attempts to startle them and they now know there is no harm connected with it. So they take off half-heatedly and usually immediately return. This time they initially started flight at the usual slow speed but an instant later they streaked away frantically and at a blistering speed. I knew why and I instantly began visually searching for the bird. There it was; the Cooper's Hawk came flapping right by me and went off to someone else's feeder to lay its ambush. It had been waiting in full view, probably on a utility wire, but motionless. They either did not know it was there or they were waiting on the roof because it was there. The hawk was waiting for the pigeons to leave the roof and get grouped together on the feeder. If I had seen it I would have had one less pigeon to deal with on that day. BTW, on this day I removed this dead birch you see in the picture. But in previous years I had allowed the seedlings that emerged from and around the birch base to grow. On this day the seedlings are now saplings, and are up to a about 10 fee in height, but not enough for large birds to perch on.
BTW, I just noted on November 9, 2012 that although virtually all the leaves have fallen, they still have some Fall-color in them. That is in contrast to the above image (taken December 14, 2012) in which they are all brown.
So, when the leaves begin falling I can begin looking for Cooper's Hawks around my feeder and occasionally killing a pigeon and I can expect that to continue through Winter.