by Sarah ‘Chickadee’ Hubbard
Maybe you’ve noticed there are more hawks lately now that the canopy of leaves is falling to the forest floor and blanketing all the seeds from this year of growth. Maybe you’ve noticed them soaring on the wind finding the warm thermals to glide along effortlessly as our days grow colder. Maybe there suddenly seems to be a lot more hawks than you’ve seen in a while and you’re wondering where they all came from. There’s a reason we see more of them this time of year than others.
Hawks are one of my favorite bird species to talk about. In Georgia we have both Buteos and Accipiters that live in our neighborhoods.
Buteos are Soaring Hawks – these are the Red Shouldered Hawks, Red Tailed Hawks, and Broad Winged Hawks. Accipiters are Forest Hawks – these are the Cooper’s Hawk and the Sharp Shinned Hawk. Both species of our local Accipters fly below and through the canopy of trees. They are stunning and nearly invisible to see. They are almost equally as hard to tell apart as they are to catch a glimpse of.
Right now, all the hawks are busy hunting the small animals – like squirrels and chipmunks – as they busily move on the ground gathering acorns and other nuts for the coming winter. They are easier to see as they are both hunting lower to the ground and the canopy is not keeping them quite as hidden as they have been all summer. And, all the young have fledged and some migrate so they may very well be more of them than usual as they establish where they will winter this year.
In the world of Bird Language the Buteo’s and the Accipiters create what is called a ‘silent alarm’ among the songbirds – meaning no one makes any sound and everyone freezes right where they are or they rush to a safe place in silence. Accipiters are fierce hunters of song birds with keen eyesight and the agility to act swiftly when on the hunt. As you tune into the birds and the information they share with one another there is a distinctive ‘vibe’ you might call it when there is a Sharp Shinned Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk is on the prowl for food. They create what is called a ‘Cone of Silence’ and the atmosphere is quite chilling. Within in the cone sound becomes silence and movement becomes stillness.
Once I was sitting under a pine when a Cooper’s Hawk landed above me. She was the perfect specimen of her species. Bold, strong, and powerful. The woods were silent – literally. The only sound was that of the crickets and even their song was chilling to the bone. There was a Chickadee hanging out near me and I could see her shivering and feel that same fear in my body. Everyone in the scene knew the Cooper’s Hawk wasn’t leaving until she was fed. What I most noticed in my body was the anxiety and nervousness I felt in me and around me. Thankfully, that day her 2 minutes above me didn’t yield any food for her that I witnessed. I feel certain she made her way to another spot and someone wasn’t fast enough to freeze and she ended up well fed. Accipiters are phenomenal hunters with keen eyesight and stealth.
Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp Shinned Hawks fly silently through the canopy. Their ability to pass between two trees or navigate the limbs of trees is unrivaled by most other bird species. And, if you hear the Crows, Blue Jays, or the Red Shouldered Hawks calling loudly they are likely trying to chase the Cooper’s Hawk out. They do not like to share their territory with these birds because they are such efficient hunters.
Read more about them and be on the look out for them – and pay extra attention to how you feel in your body when things are silent around you. Listen to your own body radar – it might be telling you something. You may be able to witness one of these majestic birds on the hunt.
Here’s an article I found on how to tell the Cooper’s Hawk and the Sharp Shinned Hawk apart should you encounter them.
How to Tell Them Apart
Sarah (Chickadee) Hubbard