Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mr. Accipiter

This small hawk was sitting on a fence post as I motored up the drive this morning. Birds often ignore the car, even if it is moving, however, they flush as soon as I get out of the car. When I saw the hawk, I eased the car near the post, set the hand-brake and crawled back through the seats of my station wagon to get my camera. Good thing I took that yoga class on Friday.

Even when I unrolled the window, he didn't budge. Mostly, he was scanning the pasture below the drive with an occasional slight head rotation and dark eye cast at my car. I guess a small black car with mud on it probably looks like one of the cows. It's an Angus car.

We've had two days of blustery rain (yeah, keep it up until May!) with sunny breaks. This morning, loose white clouds were drifting under a dense dark mid-altitude band of clouds, and perhaps the little birds and their predators were getting a few bites to eat between storms. Or they could have been blown in by the storm front.

Accipiters are small hawks that make quick dashing flights among brush and branches to capture smaller birds - aerial pursuit. We get both sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks and I can't tell the difference. I was feeling frustrated until I read 3 pages in Hawks in Flight on how to tell the two apart, including "Arguments about identification of accipiters may well account for more broken friendships and more failed marriages between hawk watchers than all other causes combined." There's a lot of trouble packed into those little raptor bodies.

My guess is that Mr. Accipiter is a sharp-shinned hawk since he seemed ridiculously small for a savage raptor and his folded tail had a notch in the end. He also did not have the extremely long tail of a Cooper's hawk that often makes me think, "Is that a raptor or a military drone that just flew by?" My reference to "Mr." for this bird is only creative license. I make absolutely no claim to being able to distinguish whether this is a male or female bird. Although they look nearly identical, there is enough size difference between sexes within each accipiter species (males are about 1/3 smaller), that female sharpies are almost as large as male Cooper's. As a lone birder this morning, I can make these claims without offending anyone. You are welcomed to share your assessment in the comments, but no complaining about my hawk photography or our friendship might just teeter under the weight of this "Artful Dodger" (Dunne).
See also:
Hawks in Flight, Pete Dunne, David Sibley & Clay Sutton, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Coopers and Sharpies..I have that book and it didn't help. I have some birding friends I can send a photo too if I can't figure it out. Not knowing the size, the barrel body and those skinny legs make me think sharpie...but I could be wrong..but it's fun to try and figure it out anyway...


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