A Travellerspoint blog

My Spark Bird: the Cooper’s Hawk

Oak Park, IL

all seasons in one day 36 °F

One thing is for sure: if you like birds, always bring your camera when out on a walk! When walking with Tian and Pearl, we spotted a pair of Cooper’s Hawks copulating, confirming another year of breeding in Oak Park! Too cool, so I raced back to the house to grab my camera.

Although both birds were resting from activity when I returned, they were still at least! I cherish any time I get to spend with COOPER’S HAWKS because they are my “spark bird” — the bird that sparked my birding interest back in 2012.

So, I got some quality time with this mated pair. The male was a handsome little devil, a rather compact bird with a dark head and sharp salmon-colored barring on the breast: textbook adult Cooper’s plumage.

Now, the female seen in this photo is an interesting comparison in sexual & age dimorphism compared to her mate. The difference in sex actually is not in plumage; in fact this female bird is a first-year and that is why she shows vertical brown stripes as opposed to the horizontal barring on the male. So the difference in plumage is due to age, NOT sex. What is notable here is the difference in size — this photo shows a classic difference between the male and female of “Accipiter” genus hawks: males tend to be a bit smaller and more slender whereas females are veritable beasts in comparison: although she does have her feathers puffed out in this photo, the difference in size and shape between the two birds is staggering.

Boy was she a beauty!

Notice the neatly-barred tail of the female bird. On the similar (but much rarer) species, the Northern Goshawk, the banding on the tail feathers would be unevenly spaced between feathers. It is characteristics like these that distinguish similar species by just a quick glance in the field — you just have to know what you are looking for.

Then, the female hawk flew over to another branch and retrieved a bird’s leg on which she had apparently already started feasting. Too cool! Any guess on the prey item? It is definitely a bird (typical for Accipiter hawks); I am just not accustomed to identifying half-eaten birds! Ah, the circle of life.

Ever wondered what a hawk looks like when she closes her eyes? Creepy, that’s what.

One final close-up of the beautiful female bird.

Migrants were also evident in the neighborhood today including a mixed flock of both kinglets, featuring predominantly GOLDEN-CROWNED like these:

A great day and so cool to spend a solid 30 minutes with the Cooper’s Hawks. Seldom does one get the chance to just sit and enjoy the majesty of a bird like this, be it the bird’s flightiness or the observer’s business. I suppose that is one silver lining to this pandemic: a bit more time on our hands for those of us lucky enough to call ourselves birders.

Bird-of-the-day to the Cooper’s Hawk and runner-up to the Golden-crowned Kinglets. Stay tuned for more birding adventures: two prospective life birds I would love to get this spring season include the rare Yellow Rail and LeConte’s Sparrow, both of which annually pass through the area, but are extremely tough birds to track down due to their secretive habits.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1112 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:45 Archived in USA

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I just learned a lot of detail about Cooper's hawks-the age bit! You are a wonderful teacher.

by liz cifani

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