Friday, September 19, 2014
We have both sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks in the neighborhood, and when I checked my backyard feeders and noticed them empty at a prime feeding time, I looked around and saw one of the juvenile Cooper's hawks out by the grapevine. It's not typical to see a hawk on the ground unless it has prey, so I wanted to watch and see if this young bird had been successful in his hunt. He seemed to be, but didn't seem to know what to make of it.
At first, I thought his inexperience had only injured the house sparrow he'd caught, because he was fidgeting with the smaller bird and it appeared to be struggling. After watching for a few moments, however, I realized this wasn't the case. The sparrow was more than dead, but the hawk wasn't convinced, apparently. He would pounce on the smaller bird, hold or squeeze it for a moment, then hop away, even at times flinging the limp body into the air as he jumped. Over and over this dance continued, with the hawk at times moving several feet away and looking away from his sparrow, then leaping on it again, as if practicing his attack moves.
Perhaps that is what he was doing, or perhaps this was just one of his first successful hunts and he was making sure the prey was decidedly dead, or perhaps he was just proving his prowess to anyone who might be watching. Eventually he seemed convinced of the sparrow's demise, and carried it into a nearby tree to feast. Given how long he played with it, he certainly must have been hungry by then! He was still a bit nervous, and when I went out into the yard to see if I could get clearer photos (rather than shooting through the windows at an awkward angle) he decided to carry his meal further away - as if I hadn't already gotten a delightful show.
This is one of those "wild kingdom" moments that I love, and of course juvenile hunters provide the best viewing because they can be so unpredictable and expressive. While it's never nice for any bird to meet its end (even a house sparrow, as those who know me know I love all birds), raptors need to eat as well, and it's an absolute treat to see such unusual and entertaining behavior just feet away from my deck. I hope this young bird of prey returns for another meal soon, and he's welcome to any bird he can catch!