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The Mast-Head: Hawkish Thoughts

Thu, 03/03/2022 - 10:50

Ever since The Star’s new birding column began, authored by the capable Christopher Gangemi, I have been hesitant to describe here my own amateurish thoughts and observations. However, when a Cooper’s hawk appeared through the window one morning recently as I was doing the dishes, it was too much to resist.

Big birds of prey seem to be all about now, and my perch in the dunes off Cranberry Hole Road is a decent enough place to see them. Red-tailed hawks and bald eagles have been around all winter and cannot get me going in quite the same way as an unfamiliar raptor of some sort or another. There may have been a time when I appreciated the difference between an accipiter and a buteo, but not now; I have come to lump whatever I spot as “red tailed” and “not red tailed.”

Cooper’s, on the other hand, I am acquainted with from the mysterious disappearances of a backyard chicken flock that I had foolishly let range free in the woods during the daylight hours. As their number declined, I suspected something was up, but it wasn’t until I found the hawk in the act back in the scrub that I put two and two together. As brutal as it was, I had to hand it to the Cooper’s for a brilliant evolutionary strategy.

It may be a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation, but I like to think that the Cooper’s, having ceded the sky to the bigger, dull-witted soaring birds, found an open niche to exploit in the understory. It is as if it said to itself, “Why waste the effort? Dinner is hiding below the tree cover.” And so the Cooper’s sits, on a branch, still as a tomb, waiting for something tasty to stroll by, a very fine strategy, if you ask me.

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