Speaking of Nature: Kevin the Cooper’s hawk

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    This juvenile Cooper's hawk (my wife named "him" Kevin) is standing on the top of my grill and waiting for a songbird to make a mistake. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BILL DANIELSON

For the Recorder
Published: 11/24/2020 1:33:25 PM

Every year is the same and every year is different. As I spend more and more time observing and tracking the events in the outside world, I find that there is a great deal of comfort to be gained. Every year is the same in the sense that every year follows the same basic patter of the seasons. You could step outside on any given day, look around and listen around and you would have a good chance at knowing what time of year it was without looking at a calendar. But this predictable, reliable sameness is always accented with the rare essence of something that is slightly different.

In 2012, we had a winter without any white-throated sparrows. In 2016, we barely had any snow. In 2008, we had some incredible ice storms. There are slight differences in every year that add some spice to the monotony of the ticking clock of the seasons and sometimes the spices are bold. This is one of the bold years.

The leaves fell on time. The first cold weather arrived on time. The basic events have all happened at basically the right moments, but there is a new development that has added a great deal of life and zest to the landscape. The new development I am speaking of is the arrival of a young Cooper’s hawk that I actually wrote about back at the beginning of October.

Juvenile Cooper’s hawks are nothing out of the ordinary, but this particular individual is quite a character. Longtime readers may remember my stories of Sheldon the red-tailed hawk from several years ago. Well, this year I have another young hawk who has decided to stay, but this is a hawk of a different color.

Sheldon was a large “buteo” that perched in a tree down the hill and waited for rabbits, mice or squirrels to make a mistake. He was ever-present and quite talkative whenever I went outside, but he didn’t add much excitement to the yard. This year, we have “Kevin” the Cooper’s hawk (named again by my beautiful wife, Susan) and he is an “accipiter.” This means that he is much more active and is constantly flying around the yard and zipping around corners in the hopes of ambushing the birds that come to my feeders.

Back in October, this bird made an impression on me as he (I only say “he” because of the name “Kevin”) spent a lot of time vocalizing in my yard. He even responded to a recording of a Cooper’s hawk and energetically criss-crossed my meadow in search of the “other hawk.” Perhaps I should have known that I had an unusual individual on my hands, but six weeks later I can say unequivocally that there is something special about this bird.

He visits the deck almost every day and seems to be relatively mellow around people. I can walk up to the window (slowly) and he will just sit there and look at me, as if he is trying to figure out what I am doing. He is also quite talkative and makes a fair bit of noise when he is on the deck. I came home from the grocery store last week and Susan had a photo of Kevin with his beak open, making a racket.

I am teaching from home because of the COVID-19 crisis and my office window looks out across a mowed area to some pine trees. There is also a huge cottonwood tree in the same direction where the neighborhood crows always perch and plan their day. Even this morning, as I was getting ready to write this column, Kevin was perched on a dead pine limb and eyeing the crows. The crows, unfazed by the smaller bird, just went about their business, but I sensed a bit of taunting in their behavior.

You see, Kevin and the crows seem to have a love-hate relationship. Kevin appears to take great delight in chasing the crows, but there is also a bit of edge to the entire affair. I definitely get the impression that Kevin would love it if once — just once — he could actually catch one of them. The problem is that crows are large, powerful and never alone, which makes them rather fearsome targets for a Cooper’s hawk. Nevertheless, the daily jousting matches continue. Kevin will never win, but he keeps at it. I also have to assume that he is being successful with a different source of prey. If I were a betting man I’d say that the local mourning doves have been keeping him going. At times, there are 50 or more here in the morning and that is what we call a “target-rich environment” for Kevin.

So, I wonder if you have noticed anything special in your neighborhood this year. Have you seen a deer hanging around? Is there a bird at your feeders that you haven’t noticed before? Chances are that the more you pay attention, the more attuned to change you will be and it’s the changes, great and small, that make “normal” interesting.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 23 years and he has known Kevin the Cooper’s hawk for two months. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics. Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.

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