Struggle For Life In Uptown

We interrupt the regularly scheduled report on last weekend's hawk banding to inform you of an urban Cooper's hawk observation that happened today. WARNING! This post is not for the squeamish. In Nature, the fight for survival can be brutal and this post is going to describe an incident between a hawk and a pigeon. If you would rather think of all the animals and birds getting along like a Leo the Lion cartoon, you may want to skip reading the rest of this post.

I needed to take care of some grocery shopping this afternoon before we were hit with a line of thunder storms. When we came back from Duluth last night, you could feel the humidity, I had a tough time sleeping last and the air felt heavier throughout the day today. I left to go shopping and I as I walked past the side of my building, I noticed an odd lump next the bushes that border the apartment building's property. It suddenly dawned on me that the shape was a Cooper's hawk mantling over prey. There was white flash and I realized it had a pigeon and it wasn't quite dead. So, I dashed upstairs to my apartment for my digiscoping equipment.

I came back down and the hawk had changed position and was facing me with the pigeon. This was a Cooper's hawk hatched this year based on the brown and white plumage. It's also a female based on her size compared to the pigeon--she's a big ole girl. The hawk seemed antsy, and had a tough time balancing on top of the pigeon. When I took the second photo, I found out why:

The pigeon was still alive and struggling to free itself from the inexperienced hunter. I have always thought that Cooper's hawk was one of the worst ways to go--especially a young one that doesn't quite know how to use all of its equipment yet. Cooper's hawks squeeze repeatedly, and since their toes and talons are thinner than a red-tailed hawk, it's kind of like a death by sewing machine needles. When a Coops starts to feed, prey isn't always dead. Experienced birds can kill quicker, it makes it easier to feed and they don't waste as much energy. I started to debate with myself as to how long I can watch this, let alone take photos.

And then the pigeon rolled and was free (I took a photo but all that was left was a few feathers floating), it took off like a shot right over my head, the Cooper's followed in hot pursuit at eye level with me to the right side of my face. I felt a slight breeze in its wake. The pigeon crossed the busy street right over the cars, the Cooper's gained quickly. The pigeon raced over a parking lot towards some trees, the hawk caught up and nailed it in mid air, there was a puff of feathers and both fell to the ground.

I crossed the street at searched the parking lot. The young Cooper's hawk had made it to a small yard at the other end of the lot. If you look between the dark gray car and the yellow garage, you can see a small lump on the ground. That's the hawk. Don't worry, I got her in the scope:

The pigeon was still putting up a fight, although not much. You could still see it breathing the scope. The young and hungry hawk could no longer wait and had to feed.

You will note in some of the photos that her mouth is open. She was panting hard. I could feel sweat dripping down my back under my rain jacket from the humid conditions, I can't imagine what it feels like when you can't sweat, have to fly hard and try and kill something half your size to survive. I didn't approach any closer to the hawk, she was having a tough enough go at trying to eat for the day and I could get good enough photos from this distance.

As she was feeding, the pigeon finally stopped struggling and breathing. A few times the hawk would mantle--spread out her wings and tail to look big and intimidating and hide the prey. I wondered what would cause that.

I soon had my answer. A gray squirrel was investigating the situation, squealing out its protest of the hawk near its tree. I could hear cardinals chipping a warning to each other and robins giving their high pitched warning whistles as well. No one was happy about the Cooper's hawk.

The hawk continued to feed and then mantled one more time. This time and older gentleman and small dog were approaching, both appeared oblivious to the feeding hawk.

The man and dog were too much and the Cooper's flew away with its kill. I'm always amazed at what I spy in our neighborhood. I always wonder if my other neighbors ever notice this. Did the people driving down the street notice the pigeon with the hawk in pursuit mere feet in front of their windshield? I did feel bad for the pigeon (I feed them off my window ledge), but also realized that they hawk had been having a hard time of it herself just trying to survive. Will she able to continue to navigate the busy Uptown area already populated with quite a few adult Cooper's hawks? Will she last the fall and winter?

I will say, she looked so big compared to all the tiny sharp-shinned hawks we banded this past weekend. Speaking of which, we will now return to our regularly scheduled hawk banding updates.