Cooper's Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk Dines in Oakland by Walter Kitundu

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. 

Proceed at Your Peril by Walter Kitundu

**BE WARNED... this one is going to get gruesome y'all. Raptors look as raptors do because raptors do what raptors do. They kill things daily. They look fierce because that brow ridge protects their precious eyes during all manner of prey related entanglements. That down-curved bill tapering to a point makes short work of anything that resembles flesh.

"they look so regal..." "they look so dignified and proud..." "they look so cool"

Yup, they look that way because they are predators. IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH TURN BACK NOW. SERIOUSLY. Two pictures down is a mouse getting its head and face removed. No joke.

A Red-tailed Hawk doesn't have the slightest thing resembling mercy. It has a thing called hunger, and it must be satisfied. Cue head and face removal photo...

There is no caption that can fix this.

This girl Cooper's Hawk is too young to hunt on her own so she gets meals delivered by her parents.

The adults often prepared the food by removing the feathers and head (a commission for the hunt). Any guesses on dinner? House Sparrow? House Finch?

Red-shouldered Hawk looking regal? Noble? Dignified?

Here it is eating a freshly caught pigeon. It worked on it for a long... long time.

This is all that remained.

All that pigeon now resides in the hawk's crop and it is not a flattering look. I honestly wondered if it could even fly.

The answer was no... it could only waddle up into a tree and sit for hours. How's that for dignified?

I'll leave you with another fairly intense image of another bird of prey - the fiendishly cold-blooded Great Blue Heron.