The Burrowing Owl that has made the nature area on the north side of the park its seasonal home defied and survived an attack by a Cooper’s Hawk this morning. The hawk stood tall within inches of the owl, its head barely visible above ground. After a staring contest, the hawk advanced, its deadly talons extended, ready to grasp the owl and finish it off. It did not count on resistance! The owl exploded out of its burrow, wings beating furiously, and flew in the face of the hawk, setting the attacker back on its heels. Then the owl ducked down into its burrow. The hawk tried to follow, but could not get in; the owl might have been nipping at its talons. The hawk retreated, walked around a bit thinking it over, then flew off to a perch up on the ridge. The owl emerged unharmed, not a feather out of place, and resumed its position, looking this way and that, as human onlookers gathered on the path and admired it.
Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized raptors whose preferred diet is small and medium size birds. The males are much smaller than the females. Luckily for the owl, this attacker was a male. It was hardly bigger than the owl, a fact that the owl very probably appreciated. These hawks normally attack from the air, taking their prey by surprise. They kill by choking their prey with their talons. Walking, standing, and facing off with their prey as the hawk did with the owl is very unusual behavior.
The actual clash between the birds took only a fraction of a second. Here are the frames from the video when it happened. It’s mostly blur, but you can see the hawk thrown back on its heels.