Approaching the bird feeders in Prospect Park, I heard several Blue Jays screeching. The feeders themselves were completely abandoned, which is a sure sign of something going on, although there were Downy Woodpeckers, House Finches, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Mourning Doves all around in the trees. The male Red-wings are generally one of the earliest birds to return north in the spring, but some will stick around through a mild winter like this one. They generally don’t vocalize this early, but these boys were wound up. They all knew what the Blue Jays knew. A Cooper’s hawk, Accipiter cooperii, was nearby, raptor-eyeing the scene. Cooper’s Hawks, which are similar looking to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawks, Accipiter striatus, are Accipiters, or woodland hawks, built to maneuver through forests swiftly. They have long stripped tails, relatively short, rounded wings (as compared to the long pointy ones of falcons and the large, broad wings of soaring hawks, or Buteos, like the commonly seen Red-tailed Hawk). Their usual prey is other birds, which they take by surprise, suggesting this was not this particular bird’s hour. A mature bird, it had its post-juvenile characteristic red eyes and horizontal russet stripping across the chest. There is another North American Accipiter, the Northern Goshawk, which is an extremely rare bird in the city, although there was a juvenile in Prospect Park a few years ago.
While watching this Cooper, and the active, vocal song birds in the area (though they totally boycotted the feeders), I saw a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk make a pass over the feeders, which also attract squirrels. This squirrel, representative of what is normally a pretty vivacious species, hunched very, very still, trying to blend into the branch. The Red-tailed hawk landed below and back from the Cooper’s, which made the Cooper’s give it neck-twisting looking-over, but otherwise they seemed to ignore each other.I know, I know… it look a lot of observation to be able to get a bit of a handle on identifying the raptors (for instance, there are a dozen species of raptors on the Prospect Park bird checklist), who are often just a fast blur. But the more you look, the more you’ll see. Deep breath. Patience. Awfully helpful is the richly illustrated, but too heavy for the field. Wheeler’s Raptors of Eastern North America.
For the last few winters, I’ve been noticing Cooper’s in my part of Brooklyn, Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens. Last week I also saw one fly over the bus I was on going up 5th Avenue in Park Slope. Where there are bird feeders, there are song birds, and where there are groupings of songbirds there will be raptors.