Nature Notes: Squirrels, birds, rodents are honest sport for these raptors | Journey And Outside


(This is the fourth installment in a four-part series on falcons.)

Broad-winged falcon

The broad-winged hawk is a fairly small hawk with a sturdy body and a large head. This falcon belongs to the Buteo falcon family. With rather large wings and a short, square tail, it is red-brown on the upper body and has a white underside with brown bars. The underside of the tail has distinct black and white stripes.

The broad-winged hawk hovers overhead, but spends most of its time in and around evergreen deciduous forests or mixed deciduous forests, sitting in lower branches, waiting to raid careless quarries. This hawk will target squirrels, chipmunks, small rodents, birds, reptiles and frogs.

Broad-winged falcons spend most of the summer in North America, but most migrate long distances into winter in Central and South America. They sometimes congregate in large flocks of up to 1,000 birds when they migrate south in the fall. A popular route is along the Appalachian Mountains. This great falcon exodus led to the popularity of falcon migrations. Broad-winged hawks have a very shrill whistle for their call and tend to shy away from densely populated areas.

Cooper’s falcon

This medium-sized hawk is fairly common in the United States and Mexico, and widespread in Maryland. The Cooper’s Hawk is an accipiter, which means that it has a tendency to perch in trees and supply lines and tumble down to catch its prey. The bird is named after William Cooper, who was a famous naturalist in the 19th century. Cooper’s falcons are very quick and agile, with strong legs and large claws, qualities that serve them well when hunting birds and small mammals.

Cooper’s falcons target wild birds such as pheasant, quail, and capercaillie, as well as other small and medium-sized birds. It was the bird’s propensity to target wild birds that resulted in large bounties being placed on the hawks in the 1800s to early 1900s, drastically reducing their numbers. Populations recovered quickly after protective measures were taken against this bird and other birds of prey, so its population is quite robust today.

While the Cooper’s Hawk feeds on some birds that are losing weight, such as prairie chickens, warblers, and golden-winged warblers, the decline these birds see is more due to habitat loss than predators. One reason the smaller sparrowhawks are declining in population is competition from the Cooper’s Hawk. The Cooper’s Hawk is agile, quick, and adaptable, traits that serve this bird well in nature.