Cooper's Hawk Upstages Ducks

On this morning's monthly waterfowl count, the last of the winter season at South Platte Park, ducks were represented by a fair number of species but, at least for our group, were modest in number.  Along our stretch of the river, mallards and buffleheads were most numerous, followed by gadwalls, common goldeneyes, northern shovelers, coot, green-winged teal and a pair of ruddy ducks.  The highlight of the morning proved to be a Cooper's hawk, perched in a dense, riverside woodland.

Permanent residents throughout the contiguous United States, Cooper's hawks are summer residents across southern Canada and winter visitors in Mexico and Central America.  Come spring, the male, which is smaller than his partner, builds the nest and then catches prey for the female and the nestlings until the young are ready to fledge.  Like other accipiters, Cooper's hawks are designed for rapid, agile flight, zig-zagging through forest or open woodlands to snare a variety of songbirds and, to a lesser degree, small mammals; larger than its sharp-tailed cousin and sporting a rounded edge to its tail, this powerful hawk preys on medium-sized birds such as flickers, jays, quail and doves, killing them by constriction with its talons.

Though less common in open country than sharp-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks are expanding their habitat as their population rebounds from the DDT era.  Indeed, since farms and suburbs attract prey species such as pigeons, grackles and starlings, these attractive raptors are not averse to leaving the woods to take advantage of human-altered environments.