Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks – Learning to Hunt

I knew that the fledgling Cooper’s Hawks at Academy Hills Park were almost ready to start venturing from the nest. When I visited the nest area of June 30 at 5:20, the juveniles were actively flying between the limbs of the nest tree or to a nearby tree and back again. While I watched, one of the parents flew in and sat on the limb of a nearby tree – where I used to see them perch while they were building the nest. Just watching…

It was time to visit more frequently. I dropped by the park mid-morning on July 4th. It was an apt day for them to begin to declare their independence. Two of the juveniles had moved out of the nest – in fact, one was gone. Was it out hunting with Dad? Another juvenile had flown to the railing of a second-floor apartment balcony – and settled right next to the bird feeder. It kept looking back as if asking “Am I doing it right?” Of course, no passerines availed themselves of the feeder while a predator was sitting there! Stopping at the park was an after-thought, so I did not have my camera with me. Darn!

The third juvenile, the timid one, was still in the nest tree trying to figure out what to do.

I wandered a short distance and found Mom sitting in a tree about 50 feet away. She vigilantly looked out across the park. Was she watching the offspring that had ventured further away?

A pair of walkers noticed me watching and stopped. “Is that one of the adults?” the woman asked.

“No, that is one of the juveniles,” I replied. “Look at its breast. It is finely streaked. The color of the streaking is dark, and the feathers at the bottom of the chest are white. Look at it through my binoculars,” I suggested. “Now look at the mother sitting in that tree over there. Notice the thick auburn streaking – about the color of your hair,” I suggested.

“Oh, my,” the woman exclaimed and offered the bins to her husband for a look.

juvenile watching hummingbird

I returned the following morning with my camera, about half an hour earlier, hoping to catch the juvenile by the feeder again, but it must have been a quick learner! All three juveniles were still in the nest tree. A hummingbird that buzzed just over its head intrigued one of them. The hummer, knowing that it was safe, paid no attention to the curious coop as it moved its head back and forth with the movements of the tiny bird.

I walked around to the other side of the tree to get a better look at the other two juveniles and was delighted to see that one of them was eating – a successful hunt? His neighbor eyed the bird its sibling was tearing apart voraciously, and kept nudging closer. The one with the prize murmured a low, but high-pitched call the entire time it was eating. Its neighbor, the bully, kept edging closer – and then made its move. However, the owner was quicker, grabbed its meal, and moved to another limb.

A woman walking her dog, that I had met the previous day, stopped to inquire about the hawks. She had laughed with me about the juvenile sitting next to the feeder. “It looks as though one of them has been a successful hunter,” I stated as I showed her the young hawk, still finishing its meal.

I headed out on a walk around the park, a jaunt of a mile. When I returned, all three juveniles were gone.

I decided to return to the park around 5:30 three days later. At the other nest I have monitored, the single juvenile returned to the nest around 5:00 each day and waited for its supplemental feeding. As I approached the nest tree, I did not notice any sign of life. Then, all of a sudden, someone in the apartment adjacent to the nest tree must have turned on a loud vacuum cleaner, which reverberated out its open sliding glass door. Almost simultaneously, one of the juveniles streaked out of the tree and whizzed right in front of me.

I followed it and discovered all three juveniles in a fir tree very near to where I had parked. They made high-pitched screeches, which reminded me of the call of a Red-tailed Hawk, as they moved about the tree. One of them landed briefly on the wall separating the park from the apartments. The yellowish-green eyes of the juvenile give it a wide-eyed innocent look.

A juvenile Pine Siskin called from the top of a fir tree about 20 feet away, unaware of its danger. A hawk screech was followed by a siskin mew – back and forth. I walked over to look, just as the parents returned and encouraged it to join them deep within the tree.

All of a sudden, two of them flew off towards the nest tree. When they returned, I noticed that one of them had tucked itself deep within the branches of the conifer and was eating. A jealous sibling kept a close watch – and then made its move. It was hard to tell who the victor was; however, one of them took off and the other continued eating on top of the wall – and then flew towards the nest tree.

The remaining hawk sat quietly within the branches of the tree. I inched closer until I was right near the edge of the tree, and captured its picture. Then, it too flew back towards the nest tree – and I, of course, followed.

Shortly, an adult zoomed in, dropped a small bird into the nest platform, and continued on its way without pausing. All three juveniles flew towards the nest. Two arrived simultaneously and in their tussle, the prey fell to the ground right in front of me. The two juveniles flew down, completely ignoring me. The successful one grabbed the bird and flew to the branch of a nearby tree to consume its meal.

The remaining juvenile sat there in stunned defeat for a few minutes before heading back up to the nest tree.

I began to wonder – have the prey that I have seen the juveniles eating all been delivered by one of the parents, or have they caught any on their own? Is it the same juvenile that is successful in grabbing the delivered meals, or are they all getting a chance? Clearly, the parent making the deliveries is not able to determine who gets its presents. Do the parents make sure that they all get enough to eat? At what point will they accompany a parent to learn how to hunt successfully?

Observing the young hawks take another step in their development is a fascinating experience – and one of the things that gives me such joy in birding. .


2 thoughts on “Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks – Learning to Hunt

  1. Thanks for the report, Judy. In Altura Park, I saw 5 hawks in one tree before 7am a few days ago. After 5pm that same day, 4 hawks were playing with each other on the tennis court — amazing to watch. peace, mjh

  2. It’s possible, but unlikely, that one or two of them may have started to catch food by now. The parents continue to drop off food for up to 7 weeks, unless the parents are having difficulty feeding themselves. The rate of prey delivery slows down a bit once the young fledge but parents are pretty good about providing enough, though they don’t check to be sure each chick gets their fair share. The young generally don’t accompany an adult to learn to hunt. Youngsters will sometimes hang out together as they start hunting on their own. They learn by trying and they are pretty good right from the start. Instinct serves these hawks really well.

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