The ups and downs of hosting a hawk habitat
Adult Cooper's Hawks in a Hockessin, Del., backyard.
By Carla Lucas
Back in April, maybe late March, Jan
and Rich Chadwick were thrilled to see a hawk sitting on a fence post
in their yard.
The large raptor, with a hooked beak, large talons and huge wingspan, glided gracefully from the post and disappeared into a stand of evergreens at the edge of their property in New Garden Township.
"It was awesome to watch this bird,” Jan said. She was amazed to see how well camouflaged the birds were in the trees. “They make very little noise when they fly and then just vanish into the trees," she said.
She used her bird identification book and decided it was probably a Coopers' Hawk.
One hawk, sometimes two, continued to regularly show up in the backyard. From a perch on the fence post, the hawks had a perfect place to wait for a meal, as songbirds and squirrels visited the nearby bird feeder.
By June, Jan was pretty sure the birds she was watching were a pair of adults which were nesting in the pine trees in the back yard, and that their eggs had hatched. The raptors were continually catching birds and squirrels and flying into the trees with the carcasses. Although the Chadwicks looked for a nest, they never found one.
After a rainstorm, a puddle formed on the Chadwicks' hot tub cover. From their kitchen window, Jan and Rich could watch as the Cooper's Hawks bathed in the puddle. Still thrilled to have them in the yard, Jan placed a shallow pan on the hot tub cover and kept it filled with water for the birds.
By mid-July. three juvenile hawks were in the back yard, as well as the two adult birds. Rich remembers watching them learn to hunt as one of the juveniles landed close to a squirrel and spread its wings. “It knew it was supposed to do something, but wasn't quite sure what,” Rich said.
Another time, a juvenile was on a branch and a squirrel was almost next to it. Any adult hawk would have had an easy meal, but the juvenile wasn't quite sure what to do. There were a couple of times when the Chadwicks saw the hawks eyeing the neighbor's cat. Luckily, the cat didn't become a meal.
By August, the adults mostly left the area, and the three juvenile hawks were on their own. They were a lot like teenagers. They weren't very quiet as they screeched to each other, and they had huge appetites. If the noises coming from the yard wasn't a screeching hawk, it was a squealing squirrel under the talons of a hawk.
“It got to the point where we couldn't keep the windows open,” Jan said. “The noise was just too much.”
“We were ready for the hawks to leave,” Rich added. Since the birdfeeder was attracting the hawks' food source, the Chadwicks took it away, hoping the birds would fly on to better hunting grounds.
On Aug. 20, the hawks left. Jan remembers the day vividly because there was no more screeching. She declared the hawks officially gone after multiple days of silence.
Rich and Jan were fascinated by watching the hawks over the year. For them, it was a great experience. But they are hoping the hawks don't come back for a repeat performance.
Cooper's Hawks Behaviors
Cooper's Hawks typically raise three to four young birds a year. The hawks often nest in conifer trees, such as white pines or Norway spruce, because of the thick cover provided by the branches. The birds have been seen returning to the same nesting site, year after year.
“Cooper’s Hawks are highly adaptable and are thriving in suburban settings, due to plenty of their favorite prey -- songbirds,” said Derek Stoner, a bird expert and naturalist at the Delaware Nature Society, “They time the hatching of their young to the fledging of baby songbirds. In late May and early June, when the yards are full of cute baby songbirds hopping around, Mr. and Mrs. Cooper’s Hawk will have hungry hawklings to feed at their nest.”
Stoner says that during the past decade, Cooper’s Hawk numbers are on the rise in the Mid-Atlantic region. “More of these birds are nesting here, as well as migrating into the area for the winter, when bird feeding stations are active with potential prey,” he said.