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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Bird in the Tree

Do wild birds have a sense of humor?

Some believe that crows and ravens, as well as parrots, do in fact have a sense of humor. But the bird in question is a Cooper's hawk (formerly known as a chicken hawk) that seems to delight in setting my dogs off.

This bird has taken up residence in the trees on my property for the past several years. It seems to prefer the cottonwoods, although recently I heard the flap-flap-flap of its wings through a row of pine trees that line one side of my driveway. Cooper's hawks hunt by flying through dense forests, so hearing one in the pine trees didn't surprise me.

This hawk has a distinctive call, more commonly heard during the spring mating season. The mere sound of the bird sends two of my dogs into a frenzy. They demand to be let outside, and as soon as the door is opened, they tear into the yard in search of the offending creature. Bailey and Benny seem to detest this bird, while Layla couldn't care less. The bird, for its part, sits safely out of reach in a tree.

Last year a Cooper's hawk couple built a large nest in one of the cottonwood trees. I hope they do so again this year and successfully raise another clutch of young hawks. 

I was able to get this photograph of the hawk in a cottonwood tree one recent evening. It's rare to get a good look at the feathered guest, since it is usually obscured by leaves. I dashed inside to get my telephoto lens for a closer shot, but the bid was gone by the time I got back outside. Despite my limited eyesight, I could see well enough with one eye to use the autofocus function on the camera.

I don't see a lot of birds here in central New Mexico -- usually just quail and the occasional road runner. Bald eagles are sometimes spotted near the Rio Grande River during the winter, and I often hear the distinctive sounds of sandhill cranes flying overhead or looking for food in the nearby fields. A neighbor one street over warned me last year about a great horned owl that had attacked her small dog in the pre-dawn darkness in her yard (the dog was scratched and scared, but otherwise OK). And one morning just before 5 a.m. I heard the who-who-who of a hoot owl, the first time I have heard this visitor to the neighborhood.

I'm sure my dogs would love to have this hawk take up residence elsewhere, but having a raptor, even a small one, living on my property is a real treat for me.It's a little touch of nature in an urban area, and just one more reason why I like to live on my 1/2-acre lot on the edge of town.