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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Paul has been passionate about photography since the early 80's. Nature, wildlife and action shots are his favorites. He loves the challenge that arises from the unpredictability of his subjects when he is trying to capture the perfect wildlife moment. He is a native of California and has spent the last 28 years in Orange County. Mr. Marto grew up in Carmel Valley, so it is no surprise that he gravitated towards wildlife photography. Mountain bike riding, hiking, tennis and playing the electric guitar round out the list of pursuits for this UC San Diego graduate. He has a beautiful wife and two adorable children. Paul’s work has recently been highlighted by National Geographic, Sea & Sage Audubon Society, The Environmental Nature Center, The O.C. Register, Irvine World News, WildlifePhotographyNews.net, Irvine Valley College and Photo of the Day.com. He is a recent winner in the City of Irvine 40th Anniversary Photo Contest and his works have won numerous on line photo contests as well. Juried into a number of organizations including LagunaArt.com, AmericaFineArt.org, Artists of America, Gallery 104, RAWArtists.org and TurningArt.com. He is active within the Irvine Unified School District and gives presentations on wildlife photography. "Through my photography, I am trying to bring awareness to the abundant collection of wildlife that cohabit the Orange County area. The more we know about these amazing animals and their requirements, the better prepared we will be to live a peaceful coexistence with them. I strive to present brilliant photographs of these wonderful creatures, large and small, in a way that will both inspire and educate.”
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