Washington’s newest resident bird of prey settles in

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, December 10, 2020

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Washington residents and city employees have sighted our own downtown Cooper’s Hawk on multiple occasions over the last few weeks. First, a photograph circulated on Facebook of the hawk disassembling a Rock Pigeon on top of a minivan parked by the riverwalk. Such scenery! One commenter quipped that it was an example of “rooftop dining.”

A neighbor also rescued a young Blue Jay that had been nabbed by the hawk but escaped. And last week the hawk was photographed and featured on social media once again – this time as it perched on top of the Brown Library book-pickup table.
I’m thinking our Washington hawk needs a name! Any suggestions?

The hawk is a juvenile, which means a grown bird in size, but not yet of breeding age. The juvenile Cooper’s Hawk is recognized by its barred tail with a terminal white bar, breast having dark vertical streaks, and yellow eyes. As an adult, it will be solid blue-gray with a horizontally rust-striped breast.

The Cooper’s Hawk is an accipiter, a small, fast hawk that preys specifically on birds. Its tail is long and wings short so that it can nimbly swoop among dense tree limbs when pursuing its avian prey.

On many evenings this past autumn I observed a Cooper’s hawk flying to the Washington mainland from Castle Island in the Pamlico River, across from the Estuarium. The hawk’s objective was to be present at the evening fly-in of Chimney Swifts roosting in neighborhood chimneys as they gathered for their autumn migration to South America. The library/waterfront hawk may be the same individual.

Regardless, we are fortunate to have this remarkable bird of prey; the species has come back from rare status and now is frequently seen in town and city settings, especially where pigeons and other flocking birds provide its main prey.
This week’s sightings of seed-eating birds included a nice find at the feeder of Sandra and Kent Buckman of Washington Park. I was doing a bird checklist in their neighborhood when something unusual at their feeder caught my eye — two Red-Breasted Nuthatches.

These are one of the “irruptive” species I’ve mentioned previously in this column. They are appearing frequently in our area for the first time in many years, due to seed shortages in their normal winter habitat, the evergreen forests of the northern U.S. and Canada.

I enjoyed a lovely chat with the Buckmans after introducing myself (and explaining why I was staring at their yard). We watched Chipping Sparrows and the nuthatches at their yard feeders, while swapping bird stories. The specialty of that day was seeing the other two nuthatch species a few minutes later – White-Breasted Nuthatch and Brown-Headed Nuthatch. Since the Red-Breasted species so rarely appears in our area, having all three was a nice “Nuthatch Trifecta.”

Betsy Kane is a Washington resident who enjoys the outdoors.