March 14th, 2022, 6:56 p.m. local time
For the past years, I have been “tracking” a particular type of bird in my neighborhood. I observe it from time to time. Sometimes while I am mowing my lawn, and even in the dark of night when at my telescopes.
It is not like any other bird in my area. The dominant birds are robins and sparrows, Canadian Geese and mallards, and doves and pigeons. Cardinals too. Occasionally I will spot a crane or swan. Even rarer is a woodpecker, once having to shoo away one hammering at my favorite large maple tree. I am not an avid bird watcher, but more of a practical bird observer, taking note of what comes and goes on my property, in my trees, and sometimes taking heed when birds appear ill, as there may likely be a deceased fowl by morning to clean up.
The mystery bird in question always appears large and at a distance. Far larger, at least, than the common robin. It is characterized by slow, circular flight. A bit chilling, as it is obvious to me it is looking for something, its prey.
A few years ago, on one evening well after Sunset, while at the telescope I saw this bird land on my neighbor’s roof antenna. I clumsily tried to retool my camera that night (I think it was my DSLR) to photograph it before it flew away. While I did manage a few shots, they were far too dark and I could not image-enhance them for even a silhouette.
On this evening of March 14th, I went for a late walk just as Sunset was imminent. It was one of the earliest warmer days of 2022, so I decided to take advantage of the weather break. While proceeding down my normal village path, approaching a small pond, I saw the mystery bird, flying its identifying pattern. But tonight, instead of keeping its distance, it approached quite close to me, actually swooping down about 20 feet from me before elevating to take position on an electric line post.
This was my opportunity, I thought, to finally get a decent picture! Within that area of walking path, I have seen mice scurry in front of me, particularly at night. I assumed this is why the bird did not move even as I slowly approached it from the ground, to get as reasonably close as feasible to take pictures with my iPhone.
Here is a perspective shot from about 30 feat away from the pole. The Moon was out and makes a brief cameo here:
You can see the closeup and enhanced image on this post’s title card. Here is another closeup of the bird:
If you are still reading and know anything about birds, you likely already know what this is. But please entertain me for a moment, since while I assumed this was a hawk, I was not reasonably sure.
In an attempt to visualize the shape better, at least for me, I outlined the bird on my Surface tablet. Here is my approximation of the closeup immediately above:
So what is this bird, and more directly, what does it prey on? This may sound silly in hindsight, but I was worried that little dogs might be on its menu. I had a small sub-20 lb Brussels Griffon until late 2020, when I had to finally put my buddy down due to his deteriorated health. But as I regularly saw this hawk (or this type of hawk) in surrounding neighbors’ trees, I was genuinely worried that it could at least attempt to attack my dog. Thankfully, this never happened.
So how to identify, especially now with all of this visual evidence? Naturally, I searched the Internet. After reviewing several sites and images, my best guess is that this bird is the Cooper’s Hawk, as shown and explained at allaboutbirds.org. It is also possibly a relative of the Cooper’s Hawk, like the Sharp-skinned Hawk, though my gut tells me this latter hawk is a tad smaller than the one I observed. An adept bird watcher could likely differentiate between the two in ways I cannot, from my pictures above.
Here is a Cooper’s Hawk photo from allaboutbirds.org:
As allaboutbirds explains, this hawk is now commonly found in suburban areas such as mine:
Once thought averse to towns and cities, Cooper’s Hawks are now fairly common urban and suburban birds. Some studies show their numbers are actually higher in towns than in their natural habitat, forests. Cities provide plenty of Rock Pigeon and Mourning Dove prey.
So what do you think? Is this bird a Cooper’s Hawk, a Sharp-skinned Hawk, or something else entirely? Leave a comment and let me know!