A Local Cooper's Hawk Family

by Dan Weisz

Tucson has the highest density of Cooper’s Hawks found anywhere in the United States and we are fortunate to have close-up views of these raptors throughout the year.  In the Catalina Foothills, almost every neighborhood has a local Cooper’s family:  An article in The Desert Leaf provides some general background:  http://trendmag2.trendoffset.com/article/Tucson’s+Urban+Raptors/1738640/214061/article.html

In Tucson right now, many more people become aware of the presence of Cooper’s Hawks as their young are leaving the nest.  Fledged Cooper’s Hawks spend a week or more out of their nest and on the ground before they develop the ability to fly.  They are able to climb back up the tree during that time if they desire.  Because people are seeing young Cooper’s Hawks on the ground during this extreme summer heat, people worry about them.  The best advice is to leave the birds alone.  Their parents know what they are doing, know where their young are and continue taking care of them.  From a recent article in the Arizona Daily Star  http://tucson.com/news/local/reports-of-grounded-cooper-s-hawks-pour-in-as-triple/article_de188793-c9fb-574e-9194-5207531b0cbd.html

Last week, a friend called me to tell me about some hawks she saw while attending a summer workshop at a local school.  I showed up the next morning and found the family in the shade right where she said they would be.  An adult hawk (in gray) was standing next to its two young.  Note the difference in colors of the eyes, the beak, the back feathers, and even in the feathering on their legs.

Once the parent left, the two young hawks remained in the same area for the hour that I watched them.  They were just killing time, getting by in the heat and waiting for food deliveries.  Lots of time was spent facing the wall which was definitely cooler than the nearby sunny grass.

A close-up shows the down feathers of the young and some pin-feathers growing out.  Although the birds look kind of raggedy, they appear to be in very good shape.  Their juvenile brown feathering is in the process of being replaced by the adult ‘gray’ feathers.

While I generally would not like nature photos with this “unnatural” brick wall background in it, this really does demonstrate how comfortable Cooper’s Hawks are living in our urban environment.  We grow very tall trees for them to nest in (eucalyptus, pines, and cottonwoods), we provide permanent water in various ways, and our urban environment provides a large number of prey birds- particularly mourning doves and white-winged doves.  So this brick wall is part of their common urban environment.  And in this case, it provided great shade and shelter adjacent to the tall tress they needed.

Occasionally, one bird would get up and walk around the corner, leaving its sibling all alone.

And the bird always did return.  It seems to be dragging some kind of debris with him.

Back together, the birds continue their vigil.

And as hot as the air temperature was, sometimes it felt right for a siesta.  

Even a siesta in an awkward position.

A close-up portrait of a young Cooper’s Hawk.  

After an hour, the adult returned, first finding a perch nearby.  That open beak indicates a very hot bird, ‘panting’ to eliminate body heat.  To me, Cooper’s Hawks look like they are always intently hunting.  And doesn’t the red/orange eye and the feathering look so very different from the juveniles’.

I had remained in my car in the parking lot this entire time, using the car as a blind to watch the birds from.  With the return of the parent, I thought it was time to leave.  Pretty soon the entire family will be flying again.  Look for them in the skies, on a tree near you, or flying through your yard chasing a dove.

Here’s the sound of an adult Cooper’s Hawk.  Once the juveniles grow up, even as they beg for food they will make this call:

At first though, the juveniles’ begging calls will sound more like this: