Cooper’s Hawks – Getting Ready to Nest

“She’s back,” I called to the homeowner where a Cooper’s Hawk had nested last year and motioned for him to come and have a look. He left his trash bin in the driveway and ambled over. A female hawk was perched on a limb next to the nest.

female Cooper's Hawk

female Cooper’s Hawk

“And there’s the male,” I pointed to a tree in the next yard. “They will start nesting soon.”

male Cooper's Hawk

male Cooper’s Hawk

Both hawks were banded indicating they were part of the Albuquerque Cooper’s Hawk Project. This is the 3rd year I have monitored nests for the project and was making the rounds to determine which nests showed signs of activity.

As we chatted, I mentioned that his neighbor’s gardener had told me last spring about finding fish carcasses in the grass.

“They probably came from my pond,” the man laughed. “I thought that a cat was catching them, but a cat probably wouldn’t carry them off to eat. I just had the pond cleaned last week and was going to re-stock.

“You might want to wait until mid-July,” I told him. “By then the young hawks will have fully fledged and the parents won’t be continuing to feed them.”

The pair flew off across the street, taking their morning meal with them. A while later I watched as they copulated, something they will do multiple times before the female settles into the nest.

A pair have been nesting at the police sub-station on Osuna Rd. for several years. I had observed the nest, parents and fledglings for over five years and was delighted it was part of the study area.

The female, an ‘old broad’ in bird years as evidenced by the dark red eyes I have noted for the past 3 years, always arrives at the site in late January and perches atop the tower on top of the police station – as if to announce that she will once again be nesting there.

female early arrival to claim territory

female early arrival to claim territory

This pair has seen me checking in on them for so long that they recognize my car.

Yesterday the female was sitting in the nest – not yet in incubating position, but certainly getting ready. A couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted around in the same tree, knowing they were too small and moved too fast for the hawk. Later, a Black-chinned Hummingbird will build a nest in this tree, knowing that it is safe and no predators will harm the nest.

female sitting up in nest - not yet incubating

female sitting up in nest – not yet incubating

While the mortality rate for hatch-year coops is high, those that survive their first year are looking for mates. Often two or more females vie for an existing territory and drama can ensue. This appeared to be happening at Loma del Rey Park last week. As I walked under the already-leafed out tree where there was an active nest last year, I heard the harsh call of a female coop. I located her – a second year hawk. She continued her bark-like call. Before long, an adult female flew in, kekking loudly. Then she barked back at the young bird who flew off, the older female in pursuit.

Yesterday I stopped by a nest just north of Sandia High School and could see the female sitting next to the nest.

female Cooper's Hawk

female Cooper’s Hawk

While I could see her from the sidewalk, I knew that once the tree was fully leafed out, I would need to walk closer to the house to see into the nest and wanted to introduce myself to the homeowner. People don’t like to see someone with binoculars looking into their yard – or their neighbors.

I explained the monitoring project and she invited me into her backyard to get a better look.

“That’s probably the male” I told her when I heard a cak in a nearby ponderosa tree.

“I need to make sure that they don’t see our Yorkies,” she replied fearfully. This was not the first time I had encountered fear that one of the hawks would snatch their pet.

“They are not big enough to take a small dog,” I explained. “Their favorite meal is dove.”

Nesting will begin soon. The female at the police sub-station should be incubating within the next few days – it has been Apr. 2 or 3rd for the past several years.

Following each nest from courtship to fledged chicks is the highlight of the year.


5 thoughts on “Cooper’s Hawks – Getting Ready to Nest

  1. Hello, I’m trying to find out some information on Cooper Hawk behavior in my yard. I live west and a bit north of Sandia High school not too far from the arroyo. We have always noticed a pair of hawks in our neighborhood however this summer I’m seeing/hearing behavior I haven’t noticed before. I think it might be young hawks calling to each other but haven’t seen them all together so I can’t tell how many. They are making a shrill noise back and forth and then swooping in between trees. Very active. The calling starts early in the morning and seems to slow down in the afternoon. Any idea what might be going on? Thanks! Susan Petersen

    • You live very close to these hawks, but there are several nesting sites in your general area. Young hawks hang out together when they leave the nest and the parents no longer feed them. They get so excited when they see a possible prey, or even when they get impatient waiting for a potential meal, that they often call out a lot. The nest that these birds came from may have been very successful with up to 4 chicks all vying with each other for food, yet wanting to keep each other company. They undoubtedly wake up very hungry and set out to find food. Because they are not yet skillful hunters, often scaring away food in their excitement, it may take them a good part of a day to satisfy their hunger. Hope this helps.

      • Thank you Judy! I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing all this commotion from the neighborhood hawks so I’m hoping it was indeed a successful year for these birds. I don’t know where their nest is but it must be close. Thank you again for your reply!

      • At this point, they are not roosting in the nest, so you can look for the nest in December when all of the leaves are off of the trees. City hawks often return to the same nest, so you will know where to start looking in early spring.

      • I’ve looked before and I’ve never found it. I have a feeling it’s in someone’s backyard where I can’t see it from either the street or the arroyo but I’ll keep my eyes open.

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