Cooper's Hawk Spoils Chicago Stake Out Bird

Well, a major newspaper is covering birder squabbles. The Chicago Tribune is reporting on an out of range burrowing owl that was nailed by a Cooper's hawk:

When Chicago birders flocked toMontrose Beach this week for a glimpse of two strange birds not often seen in these parts, they got something far more: a bloody death scene and a queasy feeling they might be partly to blame.

The species—a burrowing owl and a Brant goose—were spotted about 9 a.m. Wednesday within 100 feet of each other in the wooded natural area. Within hours, however, the burrowing owl had been torn apart by a hungry Cooper's hawk in front of chagrined bird-watchers.

But where the article gets interesting is that it covers the usual "birders harassed this bird into being killed by the hawk":

By Thursday morning, local Web forums on birding were awash with discussions as to whether over-eager birders helped facilitate the doomed owl's death by showing up in numbers and repeatedly flushing it into the air so it could be seen.

"The sad truth is that we birders may very well have been responsible for the demise of the burrowing owl," wrote Robert Hughes, the man who first spotted it and sent out an alert to other bird watchers.

"Since I was the one who found the bird I suppose I could have kept my mouth shut and not have told anyone, but this would not have endeared me to other birders," wrote Hughes, who declined to speak to a Tribune reporter. "I'm not sure how this situation could have been handled differently, but maybe we can come up with some kind of protocol to deal with situations like this."

Spotting a burrowing owl or a Brant goose would be a real feather in the cap of an Illinois birder. The owl normally nests in prairie dog holes a thousand miles west of Chicago. The Brant goose mostly lives in tundra regions of the far north, wintering in saltwater marshes along the Atlantic seaboard.

Someone does point out that the burrowing owl was having some issues and it may have been doomed to be prey before it was reported by any birders:

Nobody knows how the burrowing owl, a small creature about twice the weight of a robin, managed to get to Chicago, said Field Museum ornithologist Doug Willard, but the guess is that it was blown here by winds that slammed the city days ago.

Photos taken by birders before the owl was killed showed it was missing many of its primary wing feathers.

"I am not at all certain that a Cooper's hawk would need the help of people to spot this burrowing owl," said Willard. "It was so far out of its normal habitat, it was probably exhausted, and it would be a natural thing for a Cooper's hawk to go after it."