24 Feb Hawk in the City

Jill and I were startled Sunday morning when, lounging in our library, we spied a big hawk perched in the tree just outside our bay window. As we were three floors up, the hawk was at eye-level. It had a rust-colored breast, a large hooked beak, an eaglish head, and ruffed leggings. A regal bird, as imposing as a gargoyle. The minute I raised my camera for a shot, the hawk winged away and I caught only sky.

We live in the city, mind you. You could call our row-house neighborhood mid-town. Yards are modest, asphalt plentiful. But we do have hawks. The one in question we’ve been watching for about two weeks. Mostly we’ve seen him gliding high above the alleyway behind our house. No doubt the pigeons interest him. Maybe the rats too. He’s a Cooper’s Hawk. A big bird, with a wingspan about 28 inches across, he belongs to the Accipiter family. According to Ken Kaufman’s bird guide, they “are short-winged, long-tailed hawks, built for agility and bursts of high speed … They eat many smaller birds, catching them by surprise.”

Though endangered in some states, Cooper’s Hawks have been finding homes increasingly in urban areas – like so many wild animals (coyotes in particular). They are notable for strangling their prey, never using their beaks for killing. We felt immediately protective of this one and everyday, as we scour the sky for his imposing profile, we wish him much good hunting. He may be passing through. It’s hard to say. It may be that the Cooper’s is hunkering down for a lean spell like the rest of us.

Whenever I see a bird, especially a big one, I remind myself that I am looking at a dinosaur or, rather, its closest relative. It has been posited that the fearful myth of winged dragona came to us from our ancient ancestors, who – much smaller than we — lived in real fear of raptors like the eagle and the hawk. This may explain why, when I see a big hawk perched on the swannish neck of a freeway light pole, I am thrilled in a way that exceeds explanation.