Not a Burrowing Owl

I was walking by the southern part of the fenced Burrowing Owl area when I saw a bird about the size and color of a Burrowing Owl inside the fence.  Got it in focus.  Oops!  Definitely not an owl.  This bird was some kind of hawk.  It sat only briefly on a rock by the water’s edge, then hopped and flew low to another, and another, and then back, and settled long enough on a rock in good light next to the Open Circle spiral for me to get some pictures of it.  Took it home, looked on the web for ID.  Hard to tell raptors apart.  The juveniles of several species have bold brown breast stripes and this general shape.  But the broad stripes on the tail point to a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, so that’s my bet.  If you know better, write me a comment below; thanks.

Note that this bird has a little tuft of a puffy white material on its forehead.  Its own feathers, scraped on a flight through dense branches?

The favorite food of Cooper’s Hawks is other birds.  The Cornell bird lab website says

“Cooper’s Hawks mainly eat birds. Small birds are safer around Cooper’s Hawks than medium-sized birds: studies list European Starlings, Mourning Doves, and Rock Pigeons as common targets along with American Robins, several kinds of jays, Northern Flicker, and quail, pheasants, grouse, and chickens. Cooper’s Hawks sometimes rob nests and also eat chipmunks, hares, mice, squirrels, and bats. Mammals are more common in diets of Cooper’s Hawks in the West.”

The park has an ample supply of European Starlings, some Mourning Doves, and quite a few Rock Pigeons occasionally.  If this bird likes small mammals, we have an abundance.  This particular juvenile bird doesn’t look big enough to tackle a Burrowing Owl, but its mother might.  Females are considerably bigger and more aggressive than males, and have been known to have a male for dinner.  Birds like this are the reason why Burrowing Owls in residence usually stay near a burrow.

If it is a Cooper’s, the following Cool Facts from the same source may also be of interest:

  • Dashing through vegetation to catch birds is a dangerous lifestyle. In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially of the furcula, or wishbone.
  • A Cooper’s Hawk captures a bird with its feet and kills it by repeated squeezing. Falcons tend to kill their prey by biting it, but Cooper’s Hawks hold their catch away from the body until it dies. They’ve even been known to drown their prey, holding a bird underwater until it stopped moving.
  • Once thought averse to towns and cities, Cooper’s Hawks are now fairly common urban and suburban birds. Some studies show their numbers are actually higher in towns than in their natural habitat, forests. Cities provide plenty of Rock Pigeon and Mourning Dove prey. Though one study in Arizona found a downside to the high-dove diet: Cooper’s Hawk nestlings suffered from a parasitic disease they acquired from eating dove meat.
  • Life is tricky for male Cooper’s Hawks. As in most hawks, males are significantly smaller than their mates. The danger is that female Cooper’s Hawks specialize in eating medium-sized birds. Males tend to be submissive to females and to listen out for reassuring call notes the females make when they’re willing to be approached. Males build the nest, then provide nearly all the food to females and young over the next 90 days before the young fledge.
  • The oldest recorded Cooper’s Hawk was a male and at least 20 years, 4 months old. He had been banded in California in 1986, and was found in Washington in 2006.

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