This morning as I was chipping out my car from yet another Ice event this winter season, a large, beautiful (and what looked to be well fed) female Cooper’s Hawk streaked through the yard, a posse of noisy American Crows in hot pursuit.
For hundreds of years an event like this has been done on a daily basis, so what makes it unusual?
I live in an urban area.
Twenty years ago, many ornithologists and researchers were worried about the Cooper’s Hawk. This species like many raptors was seriously threatened by DDT, but Cooper’s Hawk also seemed to flee in the face of human development. Many believed the Cooper’s Hawk was facing serious problems and many states including New York listed the Cooper’s Hawk, on their watch or threatened lists. Then something remarkable happened.
Whether it was due to higher breeding success or they discovered that cities can provide a stable and plentiful food source, Cooper’s Hawk no long fled human development, but to some extent embraced it. For example on the 1980-1985 NYS Breeding Bird Atlas, Cooper’s Hawk was widespread breeder across the state, but uncommon. It was nearly completely absent from the lower Hudson Valley, Staten Island, New York City and Long Island. On the 2000-2005 Atlas, not only are they more widespread state wide, but there were several nesting in New York City, Staten Island and much of Long Island now has them year round. In my opinion if these birds can survive in one of the most urban areas in the world, then I have every reason to suspect this species will thrive and only perhaps become more common in the next few years.
But while we bask in this success story, there are dark clouds ahead. Rock Pigeon, European Starling and House Sparrow numbers have all shown at least some significant statistical decreases in population. The reasons for these decreases is unclear, perhaps these birds whose populations exploded 100 years ago are simply coming down from peak numbers, to a more sustainable population. Other scientists are concerned that environmental factors, such as chemicals and other poisons are to blame. More research has to be done, but since these species represent the main sources of food for urban Cooper’s Hawks (in addition to rodents) decreases in the amount of prey will retard any gains made by these hawks. And while there are still many Starlings, House Sparrows and Pigeons around, they are important indicators for the health of the cities we humans live in as well. If our cities are unhealthy for them, it can’t be good for us.
Q: Which Species of Accipiter (Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk and Northern Goshawk) is Endemic to North America?
Place your answer in the comment section, and I’ll post the answer on Friday!