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Thursday, August 2, 2012

#55: Cooper's Hawk - Famosa Slough, CA

I’ve mentioned before that I found a different suite of raptors in California than I see out east. For example, Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks are extremely uncommon out there (I only found one of each). But if there’s a day in North Carolina where you don’t see at least one of these magnificent birds soaring overhead, you know something’s wrong. I also found American Kestrels fairly common out west, and I’d often see one hovering in overhead even in the middle of the city. But I found myself most surprised by how many times I saw Cooper’s Hawks in San Diego.

Not only did I find a whole bunch of Cooper’s Hawks, but I also got great views each time. I remember one day at Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma when I stood on a scenic overlook that jutted out from a cliff that ran down into a chaparral valley. A stiff breeze blew from the Pacific Ocean into San Diego Bay, and an immature Cooper’s Hawk took this opportunity to fly into the wind, soaring at eye level as he searched for prey down below. I even got to see them perched, like this immature individual who would fly low over the reeds at Famosa Slough.

Out east our Cooper’s Hawks are different. If you see one, it’s probably flying from one section of dense forest to another, passing over the path for a brief moment while just a couple feet off the ground. My best look at this species came while I was driving home from work one day. I saw a bird following the contours of the empty road, maybe six feet in the air. I sped up until I was going way faster than I should have been (not recommended), matching the hawk’s speed. For a split second, right outside my window, I watched an adult Cooper’s Hawk fly like not many people ever have. A hell of an experience, to say the least. And a hell of a bird.


  1. Hmmmm... maybe near San Diego you saw few Red-tailed Hawks or Turkey Vultures, but where I bird in Orange Co., I see as many of those two birds as I see of Cooper's in my small birding area of Bolsa Chica, San Joaquin, and points in between. One city park has an annual Red-tailed nest for yearly observation, and I've seen many Turkey Vultures on the ground with their prey, not only circling overhead. I'd say "quite common." Or, as one Red-tailed Hawk fan says, "not 'common' [they're anything but], so how about frequent."

  2. I guess location is everything - looking at the eBird maps for Turkey Vultures, there seems to be a distinct light purple area that runs from San Diego south to the border. Can't say the same for RTHA, maybe I just had bad luck! Still, I these two species are among the most common in North Carolina, so it was a surprise to see so few yet still find so many Cooper's Hawks.