A male northern cardinal pauses at a suburban bird feeder to sample the offering of sunflower seed. He is not aware of the pair of ruby eyes watching from a nearby hemlock, and as the cardinal dips his head down for another seed, the hungry Cooper’s hawk makes her move. With a burst of acceleration, the little raptor bolts out of the tree and makes an aerial sprint for the cardinal. The blue-gray hawk grabs the smaller bird with her long, talon-studded toes and disappears with him into the woods.
This drama is played out daily in suburban areas, where the adaptable Cooper’s hawk is ready and willing to take advantage of the tasty banquet of passerines at the local birdfeeders.
About the Cooper's Hawk (Blue Darter)
Once known as the "Blue Darter," this hawk is becoming more common in our neighborhoods. The female Cooper's is about the size of a crow and the male is much smaller. Immature birds have pale yellow eyes and the body is brown above and creamy white below, with dark streaks on the chest and belly. The adults have orange to deep red eyes and the body is blue-gray above with the chest and belly barred with light reddish-brown.
These long-tailed, lanky hawks are built for chasing down small to medium sized birds. Sometimes the hawks will fly in and out of evergreens, trying to make hiding birds panic and fly out into the open, where they are more easily captured. A sprinter, it will often give up if prey is not caught quickly on the first attempt.
In order to capture fast and elusive prey, these accipiter hawks have hair-trigger reflexes. They are remarkably agile, mirroring the movements of dodging prey while avoiding collisions with trees and branches. These stealthy hawks often use trees, houses, and other objects to deliberately conceal an approach until it is within range to launch the final attack.
Life is not easy for birds of prey, and it has been estimated that about 75% of these hawks die before their first birthday. These medium-sized raptors are vulnerable to larger hawks and owls. Cooper's hawks are often killed when they strike windows while in pursuit of birds around feeders. Small birds are hard to catch, and many immature hawks die because they cannot catch enough to eat once they leave the nest.
Setting up a backyard feeder not only allows close viewing of small songbirds; it can provide opportunities to occasionally observe the stealth, speed and agility of a Cooper's hawk.
—Jeff Riebe, Naturalist, North Chagrin Nature Center