Cooper’s Hawk; Petaluma, California

A Cooper's hawk stands by its kill.

Avian Predator

I looked out our dining room window the other morning and saw this cooper’s hawk eating a mourning dove.  I grabbed my big lens and tripod and stationed myself about 10 feet back from a sliding door.  The hawk was about 30 feet from the door on a fence.  First, I shot a few images through the side of the door that has no screen.  Once I had a few of those shots, I kept my body hidden as I made my way to the sliding door and, exposing my arm only, I slowly slid open the glass door and then the screen door.  It was dark and raining on and off.  The light was very poor.  I started shooting at 1/200 second at ISO 10,000.  By the time I took this shot the light was good enough to get the ISO down to 1,000.

It’s hard to tell a cooper’s hawk from a sharp-shinned hawk because their markings are basically identical.  They both prey mainly on smaller birds.  They often occur in residential areas and have the same habit of keeping an eye on bird feeders.  We don’t have feeders, but some of our neighbors may.  In any event, we have birds in our yard regularly.

How have I concluded it’s a cooper’s hawk and not a sharp-shin?  I’m not a bird ID expert.  According to my Sibley bird guide, the cooper is 16.5 inches in length and the sharpie is 11 inches in length.  A mourning dove is also 11 inches in length.  This bird was much longer and larger than a mourning dove so I concluded it was a cooper’s hawk.

Some crows found the cooper and started pestering it, hoping to steal a meal.  The cooper finally tired of the harassment and took off with its meal.  Fortunately, it spent an hour on our fence before the crows drove it off.


About Jim Coda

I am a nature photographer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I specialize in photos of birds, mammals, and landscapes.
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