A Cooper's Hawk Dines in Oakland

I was wondering if the avocado tree in our backyard was ever going to host a raptor, and if I would be home to see it when it happened. Today I got my answer in the form of a healthy adult Cooper's Hawk with a freshly caught Rock Pigeon.

As luck would have it, she landed on a branch outside our second floor window. The stakeout began. For the first 2 minutes I was shooting through a window and a screen (above). For the next 2 hours through just the screen (below). Eventually I cut a hole in the screen so I could get the lens clear, and the difference was stunning. I'll point it out when it happens but I'm guessing you'll notice.

life and death in oak.jpg

She spent nearly 25 minutes just getting comfortable and making sure she'd found a safe place to eat.

Once she relaxed she turned her attention to the pigeon. I like this photo because the blur communicates the ferocity of the moment.

A dead pigeon is a heavy load and round sloping tree branches make for tricky dining tables. There is a lot of repositioning to do.

Eventually she stabilized the meal and removed the head and worked her way to the vertebrae. She wasn't interested in the bones, just removing little strips of meat as she went along.

This avocado tree brings us beautiful shade, dappled light, and a sense of peace. I'm glad its riches include the occasional predator.

wo hours in and I was fed up and used an exacto to cut a hole in the screen. The screen created little atmospheric artifacts and reduced the light by nearly a full stop. If you ever need to photograph a bird in your yard do what you can to shoot without a window or screen in the way. It makes such a dramatic difference.

She got down to the crop of the pigeon and was now picking through the pigeon's last meal. It wasn't to her liking and she tossed most of the contents, likely grain or bread, to the ground.

By now she had been at it for over 2 hours and needed a quick bathroom break.

Feathers on your bill are par for the course when you are a bird hunter. Scratching them off with your enormous talons is effective...

...but a head shake is quicker and lets you keep a firm grip on your prey.

At this point, three and-a-half hours later, this patient raptor was working on the keel. The main parts of a pigeon that are of interest to a Coop are the head and the massive flight muscles attached to the keel.