By Dan Kirk
I’ve been noticing birds of prey lately, most notably a few bald eagles, one in the Crockett hills and another in Tomales Bay (I had never seen a bald eagle in California until this year!). Also, many hawks – when I’m driving out of the city, usually next to farmlands with fences next to the highway, I’ve typically been seeing hawks perched on the fence posts, gazing at the fields. I imagine they are hunting, but not sure. While bald eagles are easy to identify, certain hawks can be more challenging to identify from other hawks because of their similar physical appearance.
Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), on the other hand, stands out, especially if you catch sight of its chest or underside of its wings. If you notice an adult cooper’s hawk, you will see a beautiful barred rufous-colored chest. They are moderately sized, about the size of a crow. Maybe you catch sight of something that looks like a hawk but is too far away and you hear a series of sharp “caks”, then you’re probably hearing a Cooper’s hawk.
Because Cooper’s hawks are usually found in deciduous and mixed deciduous forests, I doubt they are the ones I’ve been spotting on my drives adjacent to farmlands. Their design makes them remarkably agile, especially as they maneuver in high-speed through trees and brush while they hunt for prey. Although they are skillful under forest canopies, they are also a very common backyard raptor! It’s not hard to imagine that bird feeders attract Cooper’s hawks, and not because they are interested in eating the seed…they want the birds who are eating the seed. That being said, if you have birds swarming your feeder, you may attract this hawk, which kills and eats mourning doves, robins, jays and more. If you are watching and enjoying all the birds eating the feed and then you blink and they are gone, maybe they are sensing the predator of which we speak.