Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk checks out the Pancake Breakfast

A Cooper’s Hawk checks out the Pancake Breakfast

When Optics4Birding participated in Sea and Sage Audubon’s annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser, we found this Cooper’s Hawk right on top of us!. This year’s event on 30-OCT-10 got off to an inauspicious start as it was pouring down rain at 6:15 am. Fortunately, the rain had mostly stopped by 6:45 and a little later, dramatic clouds gave accent to beautiful blue skies. One bird evidently glad of the sunshine was this Cooper’s Hawk, who chose a sunny perch in the upper branches of a California sycamore. Since we already had the Leica Apo-Televid 82 spotting scope set up, it was a matter of 10 seconds or less to drop the Leica D-Lux4 digital camera into position and begin snapping away. As it turned out, haste was unnecessary as the bird sat quite obligingly for some time.

Cooper's Hawk, dorsal view

Cooper’s Hawk, dorsal view

Cooper’s Hawks are relatively common resident raptors here in southern California, though at this time of year, there is always potential for confusing one for a Sharp-shinned Hawk since those smaller accipiters are migrating through the area right now. Unfortunately, a picture like this conveys little idea of scale, but there are a few clues. First, this bird has a relatively large head; Sharp-shinned Hawks have proportionately smaller heads. Second, the tail on this bird is notably rounded. While not an infallible field mark, it is true that “Sharpies” tend to have tails that are more squared off as their tail feathers tend to be of more equal length. This bird is clearly an adult, as attested by the rust-red barring on the chest, the bluish-gray color of the back and upper tail and the bright red eye. Juveniles are warm brown in their upperparts, with brownish streaking against a pale chest, and a yellow or yellow-orange eye.

When the hawk flew to the top of the sycamore before leaving, it presented a different set of exposure problems for photography. As he sat briefly, peering this way and that, I squeezed off a few more shots after altering the exposure to compensate for the bright background. This Cooper’s Hawk provided a lovely demonstration subject for the speed and versatility of this Leica digiscoping outfit, and when I showed off the photos, more than one person said “Wow!” That’s what we like to hear!

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