Photo of Cooper's Hawk

Photographing Cooper Hawks Hunting at Feeders

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Photographing A Cooper’s Hawk

When a Cooper’s Hawk conceals himself in the brush near the bird feeders, all but one or two of the birds are immediately aware of him and scatter for cover. Occasionally a downy woodpecker, still as a marble stature, hides behind a suet feeder. There’s an eerie, quiet sense of anticipation in the air.

Photo of Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk Looking Pretty Relaxed, Despite the Humans Nearby. ISO 1000; f/8; 1/2000 Second

Cooper’s Hawk Looking For An Easy Meal

Last August, we were visiting relatives and fellow birders in Madison, Wisconsin. My tripod, gimbal head, and DSLR camera with 500mm lens were set up on their balcony.  I had my longest lens attached because I was hoping to photograph some warblers I had noticed the previous evening on the prairie grasses below.

An immature Cooper’s Hawk (greenish/yellow eyes and a brown cap; adults have red eyes.) surprised us by perching close on a balcony ledge. He came in, seemingly unafraid of the 3 humans on the balcony, to investigate the bird feeders and swallow nests under the deck roof.

The Coop landed a little too close for my long lens, but there was no time to swap out lenses. I swiveled the camera, focused and pressed down that shutter. With the viewfinder stuffed, I was able to get off 20 or so shots as the hawk moved about on the balcony ledge. The hawk flew off after a minute or two because a couple of swallows, in an effort to protect their nest, were mercilessly dive-bombing and smacking him on the head.

Photo of Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk, Adjusting His Footing While Being Mobbed by Tree Swallows.
ISO 1600; f/8; 1/2000 Second

Hawks That Hunt At Feeders

This young Cooper’s Hawk just flew in  – no sneaking up, no attack plan, just landed. Perhaps he was checking out the vulnerability of the nests or just getting a better view of the feeder layout.

Cooper’s Hawks are regular visitors at the feeders. They are about the size of a large crow- females typically 35% larger. Quiet, nimble, stealthy and fast, Cooper’s Hawks are able to navigate through dense woodlands to ambush their prey. Near feeders, they usually swoop down from a hidden location toward the feeding song birds and take advantage of the confusion to capture their victim. Occasionally, during the ruckus, a fleeing bird will crash into a window and become momentarily stunned. Easy pickings for the hawk.

Photographing this Cooper’s Hawk had me wishing (again) that I owned a telephoto zoom lens. Sometimes a large bird is just too close to the camera and there’s no time to change lenses. See this post about photographing a too close bald eagle.

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