Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cooper's Hawk

During yesterday's walk around the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we spied a large bird that was having difficulty flying. We had just arrived at the rain shelter at #9 when the bird flushed from a low spot in the nearby cypress knees. The bird struggled to gain altitude, but remained low enough to fly under the boardwalk and out of sight.

In the swamp habitat, we would expect a bird such size to be a Barred Owl (Strix varia) or a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus). However, our glimpse of the erratic and laborious flight made it impossible to positively identify the bird. Having not identified the bird, we crept quietly toward the spot where it appeared to have landed. Though the boardwalk blocked our view and the bird flew off before we could get any closer, we were able to capture the bird's upper half above the boardwalk decking and the bird's lower half in the water's reflection. Based on what we can see, our bird appears to be a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

As the bird struggle to fly away again, we saw that it had prey of some sort (possibly a squirrel) in its talons, which would make flight more difficult. We left the hawk to eat its meal in peace. That reminds us that its time for our lunch!

Images by Mark Musselman

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