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This city bird has an edge over country cousins

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Cooper's hawk

Although many of us may think that hawks are birds that like wide-open spaces, the Cooper’s hawk has become very good at living in cities and towns.

This medium-sized hawk has broad, rounded wings with a very long tail. The tail is rounded and the head appears large. Adults are blue-gray in color. They look a lot like a sharp-shinned hawk.

The birds do well in cities because they like to eat medium-sized birds. Cities often have plenty of pigeons for the hawks to feast on, as well as birds at feeders, but they will also eat robins, pheasant and grouse as well as bats, squirrels and mice.

Cooper’s hawks grab prey with their claws and squeeze it until it dies, often catching other birds while flying through the trees. One study found that because the birds fly so fast through places with lots of trees, many have broken bones by striking branches.

In New Mexico a study found that Cooper’s hawks who lived in town had an advantage over those who lived in the country. During the winter the country hawks would fly south. The city hawks stayed around because they have plenty of pigeons to eat.

When the spring mating season comes around, the male Cooper’s hawk will look for a good place to build a nest. If the male lives in the city, he’s more likely to find the best places for a nest because he doesn’t have to compete with his country cousins, who haven’t flown back north yet.

That’s meant that there are more city birds spreading out into the country, which scientists found unusual. They normally think of a city as a place that would need birds from outside to keep populations strong. Just the opposite is true with wily Cooper’s hawk.

— Brett French,

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