I was working up a sweat hauling the remaining oak leaves off the Front 40 on Sunday when I caught sight of a crow-sized bird gliding into the hardwoods on the other side of the stone wall. I threw down the rake and I walked up the hill to the house to get a glass of water and grab the binoculars. I found a young hawk perched on the branch of a poplar tree, about 20 feet off the ground and just ten feet in from the woods edge.  It was peering at two phoebes fluttering around the eaves of my house, probably looking for a nest site.

It moved its head almost snakelike, back and forth, to peer at the phoebes. It watched me, too, with  intent yellow eyes but found me less interesting than the prospective lunch. It was a young Cooper’s Hawk, I decided, after ruling out the Sharp-Shinned (too big) and the Goshawk (not bulked up enough, and its chest was too white). They are adroit fliers, able to chase birds swiftly through the forest — an occupation not without hazard, since they often crack their chest bones during collisions. 

The adult males, smaller than the females, are the nest builders and chief hunters during the nesting season, while the female tends and defends the nest, located more than 25 feet up in the crotch of a tree. Their nest areas attract hummingbirds to nest nearby, apparently for the extra protection provided by the proximity and because Cooper’s Hawks disdain hummingbirds as too small to bother to eat.

 — Christine Parrish