Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Hawk in the yard
Do you see it?
This is a Cooper's hawk we spotted in the backyard last night while we were eating dinner. Our breakfast nook, where we have our kitchen table, looks out onto the back patio through a sliding glass door. We often watch the yard for squirrels and birds while we eat; we're all pretty enthusiastic about birds around here. We'd never seen a hawk right here in the yard before, though, so it was cause for excitement.
Have you seen a Cooper's hawk? It's a very common bird in North America, living year-round in many parts of the country. There has been something of a population explosion of Cooper's hawk in Albuquerque over the past few years. They say that if you live in the Northeast Heights quadrant of the city, as I do, then you probably live within a quarter-mile of a Cooper's hawk nest. Every park in the city has a mating pair, according to wildlife researchers. There are more nests here, in a fairly densely-populated urban area, than there are in the Bosque, the wooded area along the Rio Grande. The experts say that Cooper's hawk has been successful in the Northeast Heights because we've built an "urban forest" up here: the neighborhoods to the east of the Rio are older, therefore our trees are more mature, making good habitats for the hawks to nest. And not just hawks, but smaller birds like the pigeons, doves and sparrows that hawks want to eat. As the dove population increases, so does the hawk population.
We hear them a lot more often than we see them, I think. They have a very loud, piercing cry, which I am sure I have heard in the backyard before yesterday, so chances are good this was not the first Cooper's hawk to visit our yard, and maybe not even this particular fellow's first visit. He stuck around for a while, enabling me to take a few photos.
When he first arrived in the yard, we could see that he had a meal in his beak. It was probably a lizard, most likely caught right here in the yard. We have a huge lizard population in our yard but it's tough out there for them; they have natural predators in hawks and road runners, and I swear I've seen one of the hens with a lizard in her mouth. The hawk took more time with his catch than the road runners do, to the delight and/or disgust of those dining on the other side of the glass.
I find the hens' reaction to hawks very interesting. Hawks are a huge threat to backyard hens around here, though bobcats, coyotes and skunks are major concerns, too. I've seen the hens go into what looks like survival mode when there is a hawk circling in the sky over the neighborhood. They freeze, look upward and let out a terrible, shrill warning cry. They see the hawks before we ever do, even when it's just a tiny, dark silhouette far away. I assume this is a very primitive thing built into their brains: the shape of the hawk against the sky, the sound of its cry. When we spot a hawk, we put the hens back in the coop immediately. The small Bears are trained for it and they both watch the sky warily when the hens are having free-range time. The LB is particularly watchful; I've seen him carry each hen across the yard, looking up and in every direction on the arroyo, before hand-delivering her to the grassy patch where they like to roost.
The hawk eventually flew up to our weather station, which is fixed to the back garden wall, abutting the arroyo. He perched on the anemometer, looking out over the wildlife-rich arroyo for a long time. It was fully dark when I last heard him calling. He must nest nearby, possibly in the large city park just east of here, an easy thousand yards away if you can fly straight up the arroyo.