Rapturday

By Phil Plait | January 14, 2012 11:41 am

[Just a note: if you're not a fan of nature documentaries because they sometimes show nature being natural -- specifically, predators eating prey -- then you might want to skip this post.]

This morning I was at my computer, just settling down with my coffee and a ton of emails to get through, when the dogs started barking upstairs. It wasn’t their usual "Alert! Alert! The neighbors are outside!" or "Wake up! A truck drove by!" bark — it was urgent and non-stop. Wondering what it could be, I got up, walked over to the back door, and HOLY CRAP THERE’S A HAWK EATING ANOTHER BIRD THREE METERS FROM MY DOOR!

I grabbed the dogs, threw them in the bedroom, hastily told my wife what was happening, ran back to my office to grab the camera, and took about a hundred shots.

[Click to accipiterenate.]

I have some software that helps identify birds, and it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to figure out what kind of hawk is what. My best guess is that this is a Sharp-shinned hawk, judging from the tail coloration and the plumage. The software says they can have blue-gray upper parts, but all the pictures I see look like this fierce raptor, with red-brown striped feathers. It’s definitely not a Red-tailed hawk. [UPDATE: in the comments a lot of folks seem to be converging on it being a Cooper's hawk. I looked at some photos, and it does match.]

The bird it was eating was also hard to identify from a distance (especially given the circumstances). At first I thought it was a gull; we get them around here at dumps and reservoirs. However, once the hawk left and I got the privilege of cleaning up (yuck; there were feathers everywhere) I could see it was a common white pigeon.

Here are a couple of more shots, which I’ll put after the jump just in case some folks are squeamish. They aren’t horribly gruesome, but might disturb more empathetic readers.

As the hawk fed, it kept looking around for what I assume were other predators. I opened the door and went outside for a clearer view, and it grabbed the pigeon and hopped/flew a little ways farther back in my yard.

This next picture is perhaps a bit indelicate, but I think it captures something important.

My wife and I feel bad for the pigeon, of course (she thought it was a baby owl at first, which made for a bad moment until I could confirm it wasn’t). Still, the hawk has to eat. We see them all the time, flying overhead, or sitting imperiously in trees or on top of poles. They are quite simply magnificent animals, and I love seeing them patrolling their area. But to get as big as they do they have to feed a lot, and they are meat-eaters.

It’s easy to get jaded living in the ‘burbs sometimes… but not all that easy where we are. Besides hawks we have owls, foxes, and coyotes. At night, we hear the coyotes yipping and howling, sometimes rising in pitch and fervor until we hear some sort of odd scream, and then suddenly silence… and we wonder what poor creature had the bad timing to be in the prairie when the pack was out. And not far from here are mountain lions, and bears, too.

I love living here. It’s gorgeous, and it’s beautiful, and while it’s sometimes red in tooth and claw, that’s the real world.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Caturday, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: hawk, pigeon

Comments (90)

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  1. On names, naming and name-calling « slacktivist | January 14, 2012
  1. pete

    When visiting my parents in central Oregon once, we heard what we assume were coyotes, but it was a spooky snarling warble near the house….wish I could have recorded it for Halloween sounds….

  2. Beautiful shots Phil.

    I spent a good deal of my youth in Powell and Cody Wyoming and we had Great Horned Owls that nested in the tree behind our house. It’s rather disconcerting when you have to take escort the dogs out to do their business for fear that the owls in your back yard will eat them.

    That said, I agree completely that people forget that these beautiful creatures that we admire are, like many of us, meat eaters.

    And, my condolences on the clean-up. “Yuck” indeed.

  3. Chris

    Never would have pegged you as a necroornithophile

  4. Tim

    Hi Phil,
    That looks like a Coopers Hawk.

  5. Jamie

    I like the second photo of the hawk. It shows that it is looking out for other predators by the way it has spread its wings out and around it’s pray. It’s a way of protecting his and saying this is mine. We see them all time around our house taking all sorts of animals. Kestrals are my fav though, just by the way the hover before swooping down on their pray.

  6. I get the same wildlife traffic here in Bow, New Hampshire. Although not many coyotes. Fishercats are another thing though. But it’s really fun to see all the bears, deer, foxes, raccoons, and so forth.

  7. We had that exact same scene in our backyard a couple years ago. (Turns out it was one of the neighbour’s racing pigeons playing the part of the meal.) The picture is almost identical… same hawk, same white pigeon.

  8. Could be either a sharp-shinned or a Coopers. They’re very similar, but the Cooper’s a little larger.

  9. MathMike

    This looks like a Cooper’s Hawk (http://tiny.cc/7nrt4). They are known to hunt in suburban areas and feed off the birds at feeders. I have one that lives in my neighborhood in the winter.

  10. Chris Caprette

    Could be either a Sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s hawk. They are very difficult to distinguish. Either way, it is an immature as it has yellow eyes, brown plumage and brown longitudinal streaking on the breast. Adults have gray plumage, blood red eyes, and reddish cross-banding on the breast. Great photos!

  11. Jason Perry

    Can we borrow him or her? We have way too many pigeons around here.

  12. Chew

    Have you tried Birds of North America – Whatbird.com? Warning: It doesn’t include all North American birds. After narrowing down the selections click on icons to see images of the candidates.

    I want to say it looks like the Roadside Hawk but Colorado is way out of its range.

  13. I saw a Peregrine Falcon take down a Blue Jay one cold January day.
    The Blue Jay was just flying along then *poof* just a few feathers in the air while Falcon and Jay dropped to the ground like a stone. What was more amazing was how little was left of the Jay when it was over. Just a pile of feathers mixed with the snow and pine needles

  14. Renee

    I had chicken for dinner last night, so who am I to criticize the hawk?

  15. Janet Factor

    This is pretty clearly an immature Cooper’s hawk. Sharp-shinned hawks are far too small to take pigeons, and much smaller than this is when you compare its size to that of the prey. Still, it’s likely a male Cooper’s; they are on the small side compared to females.

    Cooper’s hawks do not develop the dapper gray plumage until their second year. First year, they look like this.

    We had a pair nest across the street from us this summer. They raised three young successfully. Their favorite spot to eat was the big maple in our front yard, so the grass was always strewn with feathers. They were fascinating to watch.

    This page has good info on the subtle distinctions between the twospecies, including in their immature stage: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/accipiterIDtable.htm

    Jamie: there’s actually a term for that protective behavior; it’s called “mantling.”

  16. Wzrd1

    Beside predators that the hawk would have to watch out for, there are scavengers and opportunistic scavengers to watch out for. Ever see a few ravens steal a kill? They’ll harass the predator until one can steal the meal, then they fly off and enjoy a hard stolen meal.
    We had some form of hawk here make a kill last summer, right on our neighbor’s lawn. It too had squab on the menu. Couldn’t get a good look at it though, as it took off with its meal before I could get within 30 meters of it.
    We’re also now beginning to get coyotes here, in Delaware County, PA. We’ve long had foxes. Our bluejay and crow population has rebounded, as I had predicted, after being destroyed by West Nile Virus.
    As was long ago said, “Life will find a way.”

    Phil, what software do you have to identify birds?

  17. Stacy

    It’s a Coop…too big for a Sharpie. And they don’t have a ridge over the eye like a Coop does. Nice shots!

  18. 4zero4

    From your second picture, the face of the prey bird is clearly owl-like. I wonder if this is a case of optical illusion because the bird in in an unnatural (so to speak) position.

  19. grandma shirley

    My favorite to watch is a bald eagle. I’ve never seen one make a kill, but they are magnificent to watch soaring.

  20. Jonathan Latimer

    Called in some pros — It’s a Sharpie. In the first shot, the tail is sqaured off which is a distinct Sharpie feature. On a Cooper, the tail would be more rounded, and more white at the tips. The tip of the Sharpie’s is dark, like BA’s hawk.

    Secondly, the size of the Sharpie, in relation to the pigeon, shows this is a small hawk — Sharpies are among the smaller Hawks, and typically much smaller than a Cooper.

    And many thanks to the ghost of Roger Tory Peterson.

  21. Neil NZ

    Nice photos Phil. Only see hawks flying around here, although a few years we had a couple of young bantam chicks disappear from our back yard. Assumed the hawk was the culprit.

  22. Thespis_94

    Yes, clean-up after a Raptor kill can be yucky- I came home from work one day this summer and it looked like someone had exploded a pillow by the bird feeder. Hawk kill of either a pigeon or mourning dove, no doubt.
    Your pictures are amazing- and what software is it that you used to narrow down the choices?

  23. Sudro Brown

    Great shots! They remind me of some that I got of a hawk dining near the beach in Malibu one summer day:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sudro2/4434208977/in/set-72157623499108395/

  24. Daniel J. Andrews

    Like Janet (@12) I’m leaning toward Cooper Hawk myself (male, immature), but if Jonathan (@15) has his pros calling it a Sharpie….well, I could be persuaded (it’d be a female if it was). Still, I think it unusual for a Sharpie to take a pigeon. I wanted to check my molt book for tail feather info but I’ve loaned it out.

  25. Snackowitz

    I’d say it’s a hungry hawk. Or, was at least. In the pics, it seems to be a breakfasting hawk ;)

    Grand pics though, seriously.

  26. Morrigan

    Haha, love how people go “it’s clearly a Sharp-shinned” or “oh, that’s definitely a Coopers”. Well apparently it’s not THAT easy to identify, eh?

    Very nice shots, Mr. Plait. Whatever type of hawk it is, it’s gorgeous, and seeing one in your yard must be quite impressive.

  27. Lorena

    Wow, thats a really interesting article, even funny and loved the shots lol!
    keep up the good work, love the blog!

  28. DG

    Great photos, would you mind if I used one as a drawing reference? I’m always looking for great photos of wildlife.

  29. SL

    Or maybe a juvenile northern goshawk. But it looks a bit smallish compared to the pigeon.

  30. Betz

    This reminds me all too well of a few months ago when I surprised a Red-tailed hawk in the act of dining on one of our chickens. We thought there was plenty of overhead cover (obviously not) so we quickly got serious about raptor-proofing the chicken run. Livestock hassles aside, it’s always a thrill to hear the red-tails vocalizing as they soar overhead here in eastern PA.

  31. David

    Totally misunderstood the headline. Thought I’d missed the Rapture. :)

  32. arianna

    The hawk is magnificent. Thanks for sharing the photos.

  33. josie

    Coops and Sharpies are superficially the same except for size –don’t know what ‘experts’ were called in for the Sharpie ID but that would be a record breaker for mass if it is.

    Regardless, watching raptors nom is one of my favorite things to see. All the ripping and rending with talons and the peck-n-tug with strings of bloody meat; nature at its most natural.

    I think I’ll go buy a live mouse for my Bengal kitty :D

  34. Margrit McIntosh

    We have a lot of Coopers Hawks in our central Tucson location. A recent study in Southwestern Naturalist mentioned that they eat 60-70% doves (mourning, Inca, white-winged). We got pics of an adult eating a bird while perched in the big Aleppo pine next door. It took it like 45 minutes to pluck the feathers off before it could actually start eating!! I’ve also seen them chasing birds zipping and wheeling with great agility among the palo verdes and mesquites. This is their specialty – hunting other birds on the wing through the branches of trees. They don’t normally stoop on things from on high.

  35. RLRuss

    Last winter we had a red-tailed hawk capture a rather large rabbit in our neighbor’s front yard. My wife noticed it when she left for work, and called me. I got about thirty pics before the bird got annoyed with me and left with her prize – at least what remained of it. Most of the pics are MUCH more gruesome than these – entrails, anyone?

    I will never forget the neighbor looking out his front door in horror; he had to clean up the mess as well!

    The hawk stayed in the area and nested in the next yard; I’ve got about 500 pics of her and her two fledglings as they grew. They got so used to us that they ignored us after a while. (The small animal population suffered, though.)

  36. James Harmer

    I used to work in a big office block in London with mirror glass floor to ceiling windows. The local hawks used to eat the pigeons on the metal window sills right outside, safe from interruption because we were nine stories up. Because the windows were mirrored they couldn’t see us on the inside, and we used to watch them from literally inches away. It was like being in some wildlife documentary.
    Interestingly, the pigeons in London are changing colour. When I was a kid and the pollution was really bad, they were slate grey. Now that a lot of the pollution has been cleaned up, the pigeons are changing to brown with white flecks to match the now cleaner buildings. Evolution in action.

  37. Great photos. I too would guess a Cooper’s.

    I got some almost identical photos one day, a Cooper’s having just gotten a pigeon right before my eyes, and when I got back out with the camera there were some magpies trying to bluff the hawk off her kill. It did not work! :D

  38. It is absolutely an immature Coop, almost certainly a female. How do I know? I have been a falconer since 1968, am trained as a biologist, have flown and handled all three Accips for many years, have written books about birds of prey…

    And have removed the same female Cooper’s from my New Mexico pigeon loft three times in the past month! (Legally with proper permission– as a falconer I can catch first year raptors and am tempted to train this rather determined girl!)

    I can send you photos of both species in the hand. Plumage is nearly identical, but details of structure, “jizz”, even size is quite different at the extremes. (Sharpies are bug- eyed and delicate).

  39. Gregory

    Wow—what a sight. For the second year in a row I feel privileged to have the opportunity to follow around a fixture in our neighborhood. Last year I jokingly referred to myself as the hawk’s official photographer. This year I am taking the task more seriously. I have sbeen awestruck by the beauty and majesty of this bird of prey as it hunted for food. It was as if the hawk was posing and trying to assist in my framing the shot.

    http://dekerivers.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/photos-of-my-magnificent-friend/

  40. Jay

    Last night my observing friend Mat and I were in the West Desert of Utah for an observing session using our 16 and 14 inch dobs prior to the moon rising. Around 9:30p.m. we heard a series of shrieks and then a Great Horn Owl flew out of a nearby Juniper Tree and flew over us. The sound was very similar to the sound of a youngster call for food but the owls don’t usually hatch until late January into February. Perhaps because of the mild winter they are early. Nevertheless it was still cool.

  41. Supernova

    Saw a kestrel nail a house finch once right outside my window, and I’ll never forget it — it felt a true visitation. Lucky you, and thanks for the gorgeous shots!

  42. Naomi

    Oh, such pretty tail feathers! I love raptors – always makes me smile when I see them. (…I blame Animorphs for my lingering fondness of them.)

  43. David T.

    I agree with most of the previous comments, that appears to be a Coopers Hawk. There’s one that lives in my neighborhood, right next to Kirtland AFB. We see her hunting the local pigeons and some of the smaller crows from time to time. I put up a couple of bird feeders to attract prey for it and the Roadrunners in my back yard, but I haven’t seen it hunted yet. I keep hoping!

  44. Janet Factor

    Well, since we are all being bird nerds, here goes…

    Here’s a link to a photo of two of the juveniles that were raised across the street from us, sitting on my back gate: http://www.facebook.com/philplait?ref=ts#!/photo.php?fbid=2320010486663&set=a.1094392086969.16649.1441578354&type=3&theater

    As far as the ID goes, I think the people at Cornell’s laboratory of ornithology qualify as pros; that’s their web page I linked to. The tail feather end shape is only reliable when the feathers are new. Looking at the size of the streaking on the breast, and the reddish tone of some of the feathers, both of which they mention specifically, I’m staying with Cooper’s.

    Small male Coops and big female Sharpies do overlap in size, so it is better to rely on other cues if possible.

  45. Kevin

    Lengths from Cornell: Sharp-shinned (both sexes – males are smaller) 24-34 cm ; Cooper’s (male) 37-39 cm, (female) 42-45 cm; Rock Pigeon 30-36 cm.

    Soooo . . . . it looks like a Sharpie would be approx. the same size as – or even a little smaller – than the pigeon and a male Coop just slightly larger than the pigeon. In my opinion, given the apparent size of the two birds in Phil’s photos (the first pic being the most diagnostic), I think it is probably safe to say it’s a juvenile female Cooper’s Hawk.

  46. Jealous

    As the name says….

    I’ve watched many hawks grab lunch. I’ve missed both Sharpie and Coopers (bad luck and location). I am cursed with Kestrel’s. I love them, my computer is NAMED after them. And I NEVER see them when I have a camera other than my cell phone. Or driving down the freeway at 70. I have a lot better luck with Ospreys. Of course it’s hard to turn around here without running into one.

    The clean up is a pain. And I would accept it if I had them around all the time. This makes me want to move back to Colorado after 20 years in the Pacific Northwest. Almost. Maybe. Someday….

    Dan

    P.S. Thanks for the blog. I love the astronomy posts. I enjoy most of the non-astronomy posts. (I will admit I skip some of the “doomed” posts, mostly because they are depressing.)

  47. Alan D

    Our bird feeder also serves as a feeder for occasional Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. If you have feeders, keep your eyes open. Often the only sign is either feather imprints in the snow or a pile of feathers.

  48. Paula Helm Murray

    We have Coopers Hawks here in my neighborhood, they like open woodlands, which Hyde Park, Kansas City, MO is. I’ve seen them stir up and choose, then nab a pigeon off the top of a building.

    We have a wide variety of wildlife for being in the middle of a city: raccoons, possums, foxes, someone has spotted a coyote and some white-tail deer, and birds including lots of songbirds, Coopers Hawks, RedTail Hawks, and a Barn Owl that uses a corner of our house for a lookout at night.

  49. Caleb Putnam

    This is clearly a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, not a Sharp-shinned as evidenced by its large size in relation to the pigeon and thin vertical striping on the underparts.

  50. Marina

    My old neighbor in LA used to feed the local pigeons, until she noticed a hawk picking them off as they fed. To my way of thinking, she was still feeding the birds.

  51. Old Rockin' Dave

    I live on Long Island in a fairly built-up area, but across the street is a narrow strip of overgrown former farm field that was once the right of way for a parkway that was never completed and is now state park land. We often see yellow-tailed hawks patrol over it, but even more interesting, from time to time hawkers come to our street to fly their birds off. I had a nice chat one day with the owner of a Cooper’s (that had a bloody bit of something, probably a vole, in its beak). While it was making its way down the street and back to the owner it was shadowed by a yellow-tail that I suppose was defending its territory. I was walking my terrier, and bird and beast definitely did not like each other. The hawk kept trying to swoop off its owners arm at the dog and my usually good-natured dog couldn’t stop barking and growling angrily. I guess it’s natural for predators to distrust each other.
    Another favorite memory is of watching a red-winged blackbird run a yellow-tailed hawk off with amazingly daring maneuvers right by the Long Island Expressway, but then they are bold little birds, which I have also seen attack squirrels, people, horses, and even a dump truck.

  52. don gisselbeck

    In the late 80s I was walking across a crowded University of Washington square and was astonished to see a hawk take down a pigeon. More astonishing was that no one else appeared to take notice.

  53. jeremy greenwood

    I love this sort of thing. In my garden in semi-industrial Lancashire we get foxes, badgers hedgehogs and roe deer; herons and owls. No bears, coyotes or lions; though wild boar are said to be moving up from the West-country.
    My brother’s garden near Wigan is even better, its infested with that rare bird: the house sparrow.

  54. Aqua

    When I was young, 8 I think, I was on a horse back trail ride in the Colorado Rockies. It was the first trail ride on this particular trail for the season, up to a few days before parts of the trail were still covered in snow and ice. We traversed piney deep wooded copses, little clearings strewn with early spring flowers, and then out to a breath taking part of the trail that ran parallel to a one to two hundred meter drop with the overlook lined only over our right shoulders with trees and smaller bushes and grasses to our left so the view was unobscured. My trusty little mare stopped to eat some juicy new foliage for a moment when out of the blue WHAM I was struck on my right shoulder and head by what I had no idea because I was being thrown off my horse right into the bushes lining the cliff. My horse screamed and shied, stepped on my fingers and promptly urinated on me. A Lot. When I opened my eyes, I was nose over the cliff edge and I remember remarking that there was a creek down at the bottom. Everyone was screaming at me to stay still until the ranger was next to me on the ground asking me if I was OK. I apparently howled no because of the horse peed on me, so the ranger grabbed my belt line and he and his horse whose reins he was hanging onto pulled us up and away from the edge. Apparently according to my mother and the others behind us that could see that as my horse stopped a huge hawk dove out of the tree and slammed into me raking my head and shoulder with its talons and its beak before sending me sailing. We have pictures of me and the ranger who looked completely freaked out after we hurriedly took a short way back while I was eating an on the house Rocket Popsicle. I was covered in scratches and had blood soaked into the back of my shirt and pants. I was lucky though, I didn’t go flying off the cliff, I needed no sutures on my shoulder, and on my head they tied my hair together to close the holes, and the horse only managed to break one bone in my middle finger as the mud was thick and deep where my hand laid. My parents said I was pretty non-pulsed for someone who was attacked by a raptor and nearly tossed off a cliff. They say my main complaint was the horse pee I was saturated in. I remember actually being excited by the whole thing because of all the attention and the fact that I got to ride double with the ranger on the way back. To this day we have no idea what kind of raptor it was except that they told us it was likely protecting its nest so they closed that part of the trail for the spring. Eight years old and almost a pigeon. :D

  55. Dave Janes

    It’s not just outside of cities that you see this. I was nearly dive bombed near the Washington DC Convention Center on my way to work by a falcon who took a rat. More power to them for controlling vermin (and pigeons definitely count as vermin!)

  56. Kenneth Polit

    I’ve never seen a hawk make a kill but I did once see two red tailed hawks mate in a tree right in front of me while I was at a stop sign. I drove off. I thought I’d give them a little privacy.

  57. Georg

    What about the pigeon? Are there native American pigeons?
    Or are that pigeons which escaped from breeders ?
    Georg

  58. Loaf of Bread

    Those are coool pictures Phil.

  59. Jeffersonian

    Cooper’s (which, here are Blue-ish and have rufous bars) and Sharpskin (never seen one here but they have mottled crowns , big eyes and not “desert” coloration=more grey) aren’t that common along the Colo Rockies. As a Colo raptor watcher I almost exclusively see Peregrine, Redtail, Harrier, Goshawk and Prairie Falcon.

    Both times I’ve had them bring prey into my yard it’s been a Prairie Falcon.

    Raptors with identified nests on the Flatirons: Golden Eagle, Harrier, Peregrine, Prairie Falcon, and Goshawk.

    Yellow iris, underside like a Prairie Falcon and similar size but with a darker brown head, and a hooked bill with yellow base =
    Goshawk, Harrier or Juvenile RedTail.

    The latter juvies look like this before their irises darken and have many color variation so if it’s a juvie, it’s probably this (plus some banding on the tail).

    The male Goshawk is smaller than the female and can look like this except for this specimen’s more uniform crown (though that’s not a deal breaker depending on sex/age). They are plentiful along the local foothills this time of year.

    NORTHERN HARRIER: If you have a shot of the rump-feathers, they would be white-tipped.
    In your pics I can’t see the dark-tip flight feathers the adults have but I lean towards this species for yr photos. If no white rump/dark-tip flight feathers, then it’s one of the other two.

    There ARE some color variations among specimens, age and sex in these raptor species so you go with: bill shape, iris color, flight feathers, beak base, leg color, crown, banding vs mottling, and flight chracteristics.

    Goshawk: radiofreemoscow.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Northern-Goshawk.jpg
    Juvie Redtail: birdwatching-bliss.com/images/Red-tailed_hawk_juv_back_large.jpg
    Colo Harrier: baranoff.org/images/1731-northern-harrier.jpg

  60. Trebuchet

    @56: There are native American pigeons/doves (same thing) but the common ones are feral domestic pigeons (rock doves, to the ornithologists) which were imported from Europe many years ago and have spread far and wide.

    My wife still talks about the time when she was watching ducks on a bay with her binocs and a bald eagle suddenly swooped into the scene and carried one off. We feel privileged to see them pretty often as they’ve become quite common around here.

  61. Hi Phil,

    I wonder if the pigeon could be a local homing pigeon.

    http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_16016722

    When I see a white pigeon (and I live here in Boulder as well) it’s usually in a group flying about, and I’ve been told those are homing pigeons from a local breeder.

  62. gray lensman

    On the subject of urban wildlife…My wife and I live in Denver near Denver University and about a quarter mile from I-25. This summer I was awakened by doggy sounds outside our bedroom window at 3:00 AM. When I looked out, there were three raccoons in the nearby pear tree and two coyotes on the ground “inviting” them for a late supper. The city has recently put up signs in the nearby parks warning dog walkers to keep Muffy on a leash on their evening walks.

  63. Floyd

    Last summer near the downtown Albuquerque area, I heard a group of noisy birds in a nearby apartment complex, and went next door to see what was making the noise. It was a bunch of songbirds attacking a Cooper’s Hawk (identified from my Audubon bird book) in my neighbor’s yard. I don’t know what kind of birds were attacking the hawk, but the songbirds dispersed when I got close to the hawk. Songbirds can fight back when they have the numbers, I guess.

  64. slang

    You’re a lucky man, BA! I’m always trying to get a few good shots of raptors, and there you are, having them come pose for you!

  65. Old Rockin' Dave

    There is something remarkable running through these comments that should make us all stop and think a moment, and that is the simple observation that no matter where we spend our time we are rarely all that far from nature in all its wildness, and that if we stop and look around we will see it in some of the most unexpected settings, and that when we do, it is memorable and uplifting.
    If as a species we deprive ourselves of that, as we are increasingly doing, we will lose much of our animal nature, which is a priceless part of our humanity.

  66. davem

    Meh. Pigeons are just rats with wings. Good on the hawk. The last pigeon I saw dead was represented by a few feathers on the ground, with a telephone number written on one of them. I ‘phoned the owner, who wasn’t too pleased to find out that his favourite homing pigeon ended up as food for the local peregrine and foxes. Apparently the peregrines just eat the breast and legs; the foxes eat the rest of them.

  67. Some years back I was walking to the market up the street. As I walked under a palm tree, it exploded, and out came a Cooper’s hawk with a pigeon by the wing-tip. It swooped over my head, accross the street, and landed on the roof of a house, the pigeon desperately flapping the whole way. Then it just stomped on the pigeon, and that was that.

  68. Larry M

    @18 4zero4
    Owls have eyes that both look in the same direction like ours. Pigeons do not. I think you may have misinterpreted the eyes in that picture.

    Also let me join the Cooper’s Hawk chorus. It’s definitely too big to be a Sharp-shinned.

  69. I get juvenile red-tailed hawks at my birdfeeder with some frequency. I’m feeding multiple levels of the food chain! :)

  70. kat wagner

    I’m so glad to see all these birders here! We too are in the middle of grassland and sagebrush (south central Idaho). When we first moved here, there was almost no one. My Army surplus WW2 binoculars were my friend and I taught myself about the birds of prey here. The day we planted a row of spruce trees, two bald eagles flew over the whole hollow. We have a pond we irrigate out of, and great horned owls hang over there. I also love burrowing owls – so damned cute. Our neighbor raised a bunch of pheasants and they nest in all our trees. One cold morning I watched a pheasant squawking in a tree, and then he flew and a fox came out of the grass and got him. We also have red tails, coopers, marsh hawks, kestrals and golden eagles. The other morning a marsh hawk was flying after a dove – doing wheelies in the air. They flew into the spruces, crashed really, so no dove breakfast for the hawk. I’ve seen them bring down starlings right out the front door. Incidently, in the spring when robins are nesting – if they’re making a racket, it’s usually a bull snake in the tree. I get the extender for the paint roller and move said snake to the field.

  71. Isobel_A

    I love hawks. There are peregrine falcons nesting in the spire of Chichester Cathedral every year (if you’re in the UK and like birds, the RSPB always sets up a tent in the Cathedral grounds during nesting season, with a telescope so you can see the falcons and the chicks). They really keep the pigeon population down too – seems to be a favourite food (or perhaps just very plentiful). You can always tell when the chicks have hatched (and want feeding) because of the increase in piles of feathers every where on the walk into work.

  72. Nigel Depledge

    Paula Helm Murray (49) said:

    . . . Kansas City, MO . . .

    Wait, Kansas City is in . . . (pause while looking it up) . . . Missouri?

    So, you can be in Kansas (the city) while simultaneously not being in Kansas (the state), right? Sniff the air, Toto . . .

    What’s that about?

  73. Nigel Depledge

    Old Rockin Dave (52) said:

    Another favorite memory is of watching a red-winged blackbird run a yellow-tailed hawk off with amazingly daring maneuvers right by the Long Island Expressway, but then they are bold little birds, which I have also seen attack squirrels, people, horses, and even a dump truck.

    Heh.

    I’ve seen a lone avocet harrying a heron just outside Washington (that’s Washington, Tyne & Wear) at the WWT reserve. Interestingly, the avocet knew better than to get into the heron’s face – instead, it trailed its legs in the water as it swooped behind the heron. An adult avocet is too big for a heron to eat without a substantial risk of injury, but this one had young nearby.

    And have you ever encountered Arctic Terns? During the breeding season, they are the most vicious, evil birds I have ever encountered (advice to visitors – wear a hard hat!).

  74. Nigel Depledge

    I notice many people have mentioned Red-Tailed Hawks, so I thought I’d share an interesting fact about them.

    They are a member of the Buzzard family (genus Buteo, “Buteo” being Latin for “buzzard”).

  75. The Lonely Sand Person

    @74 And, to call out a pet peeve of mine, New World vultures are not buzzards. They’re related to cranes, and their similarities to Old World vultures are a matter of convergent evolution. (And Old World vultures aren’t buzzards either. How did this even start?!)

  76. I am a bird enthusiast (or, as I call it, “bird nerd”) so I enjoyed this post.

    At Christmas I was entertained by a pair of red-shouldered hawks—parent and juvenile—that were cruising around my parents’ yard looking for a tasty snack.

    For another close encounter (how close? well, the bird was flying around inside his house) of the bird of prey kind, check out this post: http://www.sweet-juniper.com/2011/12/and-red-tailed-hawk-in-our-christmas.html

  77. Since there are so many birders here, has anyone noticed a lack of birds at feeders this winter? Even common House Sparrows which I’m usually overrun with are noticably absent.

    I usually see several Cardinals throughout the day as well has a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that come to a suet feeder. But, they seem to not be visiting my feeders this year. My parents have noticed the same thing.

  78. Eli

    @drksky, perhaps its just your location? Our back yard in North Texas has been busy with cardinals, house sparrows, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, titmice, carolina wrens, goldfinches, house finches, carolina chickadees, white throated sparrows, juncos, cedar waxwings, robins, brown creepers, ruby crown kinglets and white wing doves. Heard but not seen at night is a barred owl, too. In the trees we’ve spotted coopers and red-tailed hawks. Check out Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/ You can check stats on current and past years by state.

  79. gray lensman

    Coopers hawk mousing around

  80. prianikoff

    I use to keep two canaries in a high-rise flat in central London.
    Quite often, the cage was door was left open to allow them to exercise.
    One day both of them shot out of the cage, shrieking in alarm.
    An instant later, there was a loud bang as a Sparrowhawk hit the window, talons up.
    It survived the impact and peeled away.
    But young birds often kill themselves flying into plate glass.
    Since rescuing a badly concussed woodpecker, I’ve now put hawk stickers on my windows.

  81. Nigel Depledge

    The Lonely Sand Person (76) said:

    @74 And, to call out a pet peeve of mine, New World vultures are not buzzards.

    Fair enough.

    Old-world vultures are not buzzards either. The buzzard is a BoP in its own right. IIUC, early settlers in the US associated buzzards with scavenging and they acquired the same stigma as vultures.

    OK, having checked Wikipedia, it seems that “buzzard” has become a general (and, apparently, quite loose) term in North America for vultures. However, over here in Europe, the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) is a raptor of the same family as those birds that in North America are often called Hawks (i.e. genus Buteo).

    However, I must note that the wiki article from which I gleaned these nuggets has a sign indicating its accuracy is disputed.

  82. bouch

    Couple of years ago, I was on a bike ride,gliding down a long downhill on a quiet road near a state park. I was traveling at somewhere around 20 mph. A hawk (presume a red-tail) swooped out a tree and flew next to me, about 5 feet away, for 5 or 10 seconds before ascending to another tree . Just an awesome experience to be so close to such a bird…

  83. @eli: I’m assuming you mean my geographic location and not the location of the feeders. They’re in the same place they’ve always been for the last 10 years.

    But, this year, they’re deserted. I’ve usually got tons of House Sparrows, Cardinals, Juncos, White-Capped Sparrowsj and a healthy supply of !@#^@#$%& European Starlings.

    It has been unusually warm here (Central Illinois). I suppose it’s possible the weird winter we’ve been having has affected bird activity.

  84. I had the same thing happen once – a hawk settled in to pick apart a small bird in my back yard. It left behind the skull and a pile of feathers, which was pretty cool in itself!

  85. Swift

    Sorry, late to the party, but I would say a Sharp-shinned hawk, judging by the squared-off tail in the first picture.

  86. I was walking home from my bus stop and saw a bunch of finches up in the tree – chirping away happily, and waaaay up on top of my apartment building was a falcon of some kind. I watch it a little bit and notice it take off, flap a few feet away from the building and then dive straight into the tree top. A thwack, a squeak, and a quick meal. It was awesome.

  87. DennyMo

    Great pics. I often get startled by owls and hawks diving across the rural roads I drive on. Sometimes I get to see them fly away with their snack, sometimes I’m already past them. One dusk I came home to a huge bird lifting off from the parking pad in front of the garage. I didn’t get a good look at it, but I thought the body and head looked like an owl of some sort.

  88. GretchenM

    We live in western WA and for 4 years had a pair of Coopers return and nest in our heavily wooded back yard. They’re beautiful birds and when they didn’t return last year we were really sad. They raised 2 or 3 young each year and we saw many kills, my six year old would say, “well, the baby hawks need to eat too!” They kept the squirrels and rats in check and were really entertaining. We keep hoping they or another pair will come back, we miss the live nature show!

  89. Captn Tommy

    We have a Goshawk (I think) which in the early moning sits on a 6 fot willow stump near our pond and waits for unwary frogs, and ignors the dives of concerned sparrows. It has the same coloring but is heavier looking. This is in Connecticut and the Hawk is part of a local mated pair.
    You think pigeon remains are fowl (Ha!) try cleaning up a Bull Frog Feast.

    Love d’m littl’ toesys
    stuff d’m in me Beak!

    Captn Tommy

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