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A Conversation with a Cooper's Hawk

One thing we hate to see when we look out the window into the backyard is a brownish streak that zips through and snatches a songbird. The culprit is usually a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk. And, to make things worse, to watch it eat the bird in front of you. I happened to be out in the yard filling bird baths when this exact thing took place, literally a few feet from me. Luckily, the hawk missed its victim and landed on the bird bath.

“Oh, thank God,” I said out loud, putting my hand on my heart. “Thank God?” the hawk said. “That bird was my breakfast, lunch and dinner for…oh, I don’t know…the next week,” he said clearly annoyed. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “I know you need to eat. It’s just hard to watch, that’s all.” “Well,” he said. “If I tactfully carried the bird out of your line of sight in order to eat I could risk losing the bird altogether. It might get away, but it would be wounded and I would miss a meal. Get the whole strategy-intentpurpose thing here?” “Yes, kind of,” I said slowly. “Still…” “Where are my manners?” he said abruptly. “Name’s Coop.” “I’m Joanie,” I said. “I’ve seen you make passes through the yard many times. Somehow you seem larger than before.” “You probably have me confused with the Sharpshinned Hawk,” he said. “We look very similar. Sharpies are slightly smaller than us Cooper’s and great hunters as well. We’re smaller than most hawks which makes us more agile and able to maneuver through tight spaces while chasing our prey.” “Can’t you eat something other than songbirds?” I said hopefully. “We do, Janice,” he said. “In fact, we catch hares, mice, squirrels and bats. Mammals are more common in the diets of the western Cooper’s Hawks.” “It’s Joanie,” I corrected him. “So, why don’t you eat bird seed? Why do you have to catch those sweet little songbirds?” “Well, let’s see,” he said putting a wing up to his beak and looking skyward. “I have a hooked beak for ripping and tearing, razor sharp talons for grasping prey, powerful wings for plowing through bushes, incredible eyesight for spotting moving prey, a digestive system that has evolved especially to digest meat… oh, and…I just want to,” he said with a satisfied look on his face.

Just then he reached behind him and pulled out a nail file with pictures of little birds on it and started filing his talons. “Wha-what the heck is that?” I asked. “Oh,” he chuckled. “It’s a nail file from your store. You know those “Reduce and Reuse” days where you put out gently used items by the curb to donate to charity? We critters go through those bags at night to see if there’s anything we can use. I found your old nail file and thought sharper talons would give me an edge on grasping and holding onto prey.” “Wow,” I said incredulously. “That’s amazing!” “It is, Debbie,” he said. “You’d be surprised at the great condition some of this stuff is in. Look at Gary, the gopher, over there. He’s doing great!” I glanced over at Gary and saw that he was using my old readers to pick up tiny bits of bird seed. Hoping to learn more interesting facts I continued with our conversation.

“So, where’s your partner?” I asked. “Oh,” he said. “She’s off hunting somewhere else right now. We’re done with the breeding season and she’s got more time on her wings to pursue a hobby of hers.” “A hobby?” I asked. “What could that possibly be?” “Well,” he said. “She’s always had an interest in collecting vintage buttons.” “Let me guess,” I said. “Reuse and Renew day?” “Yep,” he said. “So,” I went on. “I guess she stays pretty busy during the breeding season. That’s a lot of work.” “Yeah, for me,” he said with a slightly bitter tone. “Male Cooper’s Hawks do all the nest building AND all the hunting. We have to provide food not only for our partner, we also feed up to six babies until they are at least three quarters grown. Courtship can be a particularly scary time for us males.” “How so?” I asked. “Well,” he said. “The females can be 40% larger than us males and they do catch and eat medium sized birds.” “Oooh, I see where you’re going with that,” I said wincing. “How do you ever agree to become a pair?” “Well,” he said. “We have to approach the females very carefully, then wait and listen for reassuring call notes she’ll make when she’s willing to be approached. Then, nest building takes place, she lays up to six eggs and my hard work begins. Once I catch my prey, I remove all the feathers a good distance away from the nest so any predators that may be watching aren’t attracted to our nest site. Being so much smaller than the females makes us more agile as hunters. The larger females guard the nest from predators, Nancy.” “It’s Joanie,” I said impatiently. “What predators could you possibly have?” “Mostly, larger hawks and owls,” he said. “Which is why we Coopers are very silent and secretive birds. See that Red-tailed Hawk up there at the top of the tree? He’s watching us right now.” I looked up at the very top of an old oak tree and, sure enough, there he was watching us with a pair of pocket binoculars. “What the…?” I said. “Reuse and Renew day,” Coop said matter-offact.

“Well,” Coop said. “It’s getting late and I’ve still got some hunting to do. See ya, Lois!” “It’s Joanie!” I shouted. Later that day, I went out to the front yard to put away some gardening tools. There in the driveway was Coop roasting a squirrel. “Hey!” I yelled. “That’s my brand new barbeque! It was still in the box!” “Oh,” he said. “You left your garage door open.”

Bless the Cooper's Hawks ~ Joanie and Annie

Conversation with a Bat

If you're lucky enough to be outside at dusk on a reasonably warm evening you might see something darting through the air at seemingly nothing. It could be a moth, maybe a bird out late, but most likely, a bat.

I was out at twilight trying to get my bird baths filled for the following day when I thought I saw something zip past out of the corner of my eye. I stood still and waited for movement. There it was again. I tried to track it, but it was moving too fast. "What the heck are you?" I said out loud.

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East Bay Times Article

Attracting birds and bees to our yards and gardens is simple, if we provide what they like and need.

Joanie Smith, owner of East Bay Nature in Walnut Creek and Dublin, says there are five essential elements for success — water, food, cover, nesting and safety.

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