In August of 2011, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a family of Coopers Hawks nesting in the trees 5 minutes away from my home in Irvine, California. Over the next six weeks, I witnessed and photographed all kinds of interactions between the mother and her young. However, the feeding process is what captivated me more than anything else. It was fascinating to watch, and a typical scene would unfold something like this: The two juveniles would sit in the trees squawking for something to eat. Within minutes, Mama Cooper would usually fly in and drop off a small sparrow-sized bird that she had recently killed. The two hungry chicks would immediately fight for the prize and once one bird had secured the meal, it was showtime.
The victorious Cooper, with small bird held securely in sharp talons, would then fly to a favorite feeding branch to begin the ‘meal preparation’. Note: this tree branch happened to be only about 15 feet above the ground, and as long as I moved in slowly, I was able to position myself to capture all the graphic action without scaring the bird away. The thick canopy coverage and dark shadows at first seemed like a serious hurdle, but armed with my flash and 400mm zoom lens, it was a non-issue.
Back to the action. The Cooper would settle in and spend the first 2 to 3 minutes defeathering the small bird. Then it was time to devour the meal. Nothing other than the removed feathers was wasted. The Cooper would eat the beak, bones and even the small pointed claws of the fallen sparrow. After the meal was completed, junior Cooper would clean his beak on the side of a smaller tree branch, then squawk a victory cry or two and fly off.
Although some of these pictures are quite graphic, this is the reality in which these animals exist…the circle of life. If interested, more photos of these and other magnificent raptors may be viewed on my fine art web site at http://martophotography.
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