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Levin: The Cooper's Hawk

05/16/11 5:55PM By Ted Levin
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(HOST)  Migrating hawks are returning to the north country for the summer.  In fact, commentator Ted Levin says one particular bird paid him a visit the other day - and stayed for dinner.

(LEVIN)  A Cooper's hawk dropped in  recently, and caught our bantam rooster, fifteen feet from the living room window. While I watched, the hens kept scratching along the edge of the pasture, seemingly oblivious. Observing a Cooper's hawk had never been this easy and, fifty years ago, in fact, it was nearly impossible.
    
In 1962, when Houghton Mifflin published Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the use of DDT was so pervasive that suburban children in bathing suits chased the fogging truck, dancing in the toxic mist as though running through a lawn sprinkler. In my neighborhood, only the Good Humor man drew a bigger crowd.  My father, who warred with Japanese beetles, kept a package of DDT on a shelf in the garage above my stickball bats.
    
The federal government eventually banned the use of DDT.  And since 1972, we have spent millions of dollars to recover the peregrine falcon, another bird-hawk whose eastern population had been wiped out by pesticides. Between 1982 and 1987, ninety-three young peregrines were released from three Vermont hack sites. The effort worked. There were forty-one territorial pairs in the state in 2010.
    
Unlike the Peregrine, or even the Redtail, circling cloud high on summer afternoons, the Cooper's hawk was never popular. From northern Mexico to southern Canada and across the United States, Cooper's hawks engineered their own recovery. In suburban neighborhoods like the one I grew up in, taller, fuller trees now support excellent nest sites and birdfeeders provide moveable feasts.
    
Coops are the quintessential "chicken hawk"- a ruthless predator that feeds on doves, robins, jays, starlings... and chickens. Crow-sized, with short wings and long tails, they're built for quick bursts of speed through open woodlands, and around trunks and branches, flying low to the ground like heat-seeking missiles.

Females are a third larger than males. Adults are blue-gray above with rusty streaks below and bright red eyes.  The one that took my rooster was an immature female; a study of brown, solid on the back, streaked down the breast and belly.    

It was when I heard an odd roosterish squeal that I looked outside, and found her standing on the bantam.  She killed it quickly with a bite to the base of the neck and then hobbled toward the fire pit, the rooster pinned in her right foot.
    
She spent the next hour and forty-five minutes plucking as though she had all the time in the world. Then, she fed for an hour, neck meat first, followed by organs, and finally flight muscles. Two agitated gray squirrels approached her, stood straight up and stomped their hind feet, tails undulating hypnotically, like snakes. When at last, the hawk's crop sagged with rooster meat, a blue jay landed in a nearby apple tree and hurled invective at her - while the hens wandered aimlessly around the front yard - a flock without a leader.
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