This time of year there are flowers and cherry blossoms to be seen.
There are also beautiful birds to watch.
Earlier this week while walking in the park I stopped to take photos of the Hooded Merganser in the prior photo. While doing so a Hawk flew out of a small tree near the waters edge. Apparently the Hawk was watching this same group of birds.
The Hawk flew over the mallards, mergansers and coots and landed on their opposite side in a tree on Elderberry Island. Surprisingly, the potential prey simply continued to circle and feed undisturbed in the water below. From its new perch the Hawk alternated between watching intently...
...and nonchalant stretching.
In the photo above the Hawk appears to only be stretching its tail. However since the tail is fairly long this creates a rather large and beautiful fan of feathers. This is also a good time to notice the relatively large claws.
When stretching the shoulder muscles the effect is completely different.
As crows began calling in the distance and moving toward our position the Hawk turned to watch, revealing the "dark cap" on its head.
Last year Connie Sidles pointed out that a Cooper's Hawk has this type of cap while a Sharp-Shinned Hawk does not. The two types of birds look very similar and the small male Coopers and and large female Sharp-Shinned Hawks can be virtually the same size. To see a comparison of the two types CLICK HERE. This bird was too large to be a Sharp-Shinned hawk, but the dark cap removes all doubt, so we can be sure it was a Cooper's Hawk.
It turned out that the crows were harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk. The group of birds came closer until the Red-Tail started circling and rising higher and higher into the sky. The crows apparently felt safer, or did not want to work as hard as the Red-Tail, in either case they quickly calmed down and dispersed.
The size of the Cooper's Hawk caused me to suspect that it was a female. Another interesting feature of this bird is its eye color.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says immature Cooper's have yellow eyes while adults have red eyes. (Click here to read more.) This bird has orange eyes. The questions that come to mind are, Is this a bird whose eyes are in the process of turning from yellow to red? or Do mature Cooper's Hawks in our local area have orange eyes instead of red? or Does the angle of the sunlight change the perceived color?
Yesterday Ed Deal sent in the following information:
You are quite right in your assumption that orange eyed accipiters are in transition between juvenile yellow eyes and adult red eyes. I have banded hundreds of accipiters. Unfortunately there is no set time on how many years the color transition takes. Most birds in their second or even third years of life will have an orange eye. In older birds the eye can darken beyond red to a deep red garnet color.
Licensed Raptor Bander
In any case while still focused on the Cooper's a third hawk swooped into the picture. It came in from high above the tree, diving it passed about 10 feet in front of the Cooper's at a high rate of speed. The new Hawk then passed over the water between Elderberry Island and the mainland and landed in the branch of a cottonwood about 50' above the water.
This bird was considerably smaller. It sat on this branch for quite some time. In the meantime 3 canoes full of people circled Elderberry Island and scared away the water birds and the Cooper's Hawk. Just after the canoes passed a small, sparrow-like bird flew in the bushes directly below the third Hawk. The small Hawk dove straight down with its wings and tail forming a somewhat compressed "W". It came within inches of catching lunch. Missing it turned and flew to the top of another more distant tree.
In this position with the sun behind it the photos became silhouettes.
Still this photo reveals skinny little legs and tiny little claws which along with its small size makes one think this was a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. In any case three different hawks on one walk, while actually standing in one place, was amazing.
Returning the next day my thought was, the size of the birds claws may indicate the size of the branches on which a bird is comfortable sitting. So I while scanning for hawk-sized, branches my eyes were startled by this site.
It appeared to be the same Cooper's Hawk I had seen the day before, but this time it was standing on top of the trunk of a broken tree. The top half of the tree has fallen over without breaking free from the lower half. The result is a living tree in the shape of an inverted "V". The Hawk was standing at the apex, on the largest possible flat spot it could find in the tree, which totally blew my theory about comfortable perch sizes.
Somewhat stunned, by nature's uncanny quickness in correcting my logic, I snapped this fuzzy and poorly lit photo. A moment later a young man appeared behind me, said "Excuse me", stepped around me and proceeded to walk directly under the tree. I am not sure if he even realized there was a hawk in the tree. In any case the trail does pass directly through the inverted "V" so I must admit it was the logical thing to do. Still his passing disturbed the Hawk which caused it fly deeper into the woods.
As the Hawk flew I noticed it was carrying something.
I got close enough to catch this last photo without causing the Hawk to fly again. I left it at this location with its lunch in hand, wondering what it was eating. I went back to the "V" and found additional feathers on the ground. The feathers were non-distinct, greyish-brown on one side and a lighter, whitish colored on the under side. In the photo above the prey has small white feathers, longer grayish feathers and even small brown and white striped feathers. Please let me know if any of these clues give you an idea what type of bird this was. It is not obvious to me.
In any case, "A Walk in the Park" can be about so much more than pretty flowers.
Watch carefully. :-)