Speaking of Nature: An immature Cooper’s Hawk gives me a glare

This immature Cooper’s Hawk caused quite a ruckus at my feeders, but the photo has captured my imagination for an entire year.

This immature Cooper’s Hawk caused quite a ruckus at my feeders, but the photo has captured my imagination for an entire year. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


Published: 12-26-2023 9:27 AM

Dear Reader: I can’t believe that 2023 is almost over. Next week I am going to work on my traditional Year-In-Review column, but today I have decided to give myself permission to go back to one of my favorite photos of 2023. This is a photo that I have loaded into a digital picture frame along with many others that are presented randomly in a slideshow. Pictures of friends and family are common, but I find that I end up waiting for this photo to appear before I move on to other things. Some photos just grab at you, and this one does it for me.

We have to go all the way back to Jan. 4 of this year and we have to set the scene. It was a cloudy winter day and though there was no direct sunlight there was still a bright, diffuse light that allowed for a wonderful saturation of color to be captured by my camera. It was a Wednesday, but I have no idea why I wasn’t at school that day. There are entries in my journal at three times during the morning, but there is no explanation as to why I was home.

Anyway, there was snow on the ground, but the temperature was 36 degrees Fahrenheit and it was raining intermittently. My weather station only recorded 0.02 inches of rain, so it was just one of those days where a slight drizzle made things damp outside. All was peaceful and calm until 11:56 a.m., when the quiet was broken by a loud call from the deck.

According to my notes, I dashed down the stairs and took a peek out the kitchen window to see what all the ruckus was about. What I discovered was an immature Cooper’s Hawk who was stirring up trouble around the feeders. The bird either saw me coming, or just decided to move on its own volition as I approached, but I got very lucky when it flew away from the house and landed in a tree that was close by. Magically, it chose a perch that was perfect for photography.

The small songbirds that spend time at my winter feeders were not happy about the hawk’s presence in the slightest. None of them had the courage to mob the hawk and there were no Blue Jays in the neighborhood at that time so the hawk just sat at its perch and started preening while it ignored the fussy little birds. I grabbed my camera and made all of the necessary adjustments to aperture and shutter speed before I took my routine gamble and opened the kitchen door.

The windows in my house are all double-paned, which makes photography very difficult. A straight shot through the window glass results in nice, clear images, but photos at an angle start to show odd artifacts and blurry edges. The hawk was sitting at a perch that would have required that I aim my camera at a 45-degree angle to the window, which would have resulted in useless photos. I wanted crisp details, so I had to get my camera outside of the house.

All I had to do was open the door enough to allow my camera a clear shot at the bird, but this is always a risk. Some birds don’t seem to mind, but others will fly away before I have time to focus. Still, it is the only way to get good photos, so it has to be done. I was very fortunate that the process did not particularly upset this particular Cooper’s Hawk. I opened the door while its head was down and I myself never stepped out onto the deck, so the bird didn’t seem to be alarmed.

That is not to say that it didn’t notice. This photo clearly shows that the Coopers Hawk gave a very stern glare in my general direction, but after staring for a moment it went back to preening its feathers. The snow in the background of the photo and the sumptuous greens of the lichens growing on the tree branches allow the cinnamon-colored feathers of the hawk’s head to “pop.” The entire image is nothing but Earth tones, but they are a feast for the eyes. I just can’t stop looking at this photo.

Well, that’s just about all of the time that I have for today. It is my most sincere wish that you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I have enjoyed sharing the stories of my adventures with you this year and next week I will take a look back at some of the highlights. For now, stay warm, stay safe and keep a sharp lookout for anything interesting in your own back yard. I’ll talk to you again next year.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.