From December through the first week of February I have the incredible opportunity to visit with kindergarten classes all over the region and share my love of birds with them. We discuss what makes birds special, using study skins and feathers. At the end of our visit we make bird feeders for the children to take home with them. During the program we talk about the birds most likely to visit the feeders we make with them, and that some of them are not interested in the food we put in the feeder but the birds that are attracted to the food. We have a beautifully mounted adult Cooper’s hawk and show them the adaptations it has to capture and eat other birds.
On the very last day of programs my colleague Karen went off to talk with the teacher that organized our visits while I carried the stuff that we use out to the car. It was an incredibly warm day for early February and the crabapple trees were full of robins, cedar waxwings and starlings. As I sat waiting in the car all of the birds took to flight. I scanned as much of the sky as I could from behind the steering wheel but never saw what had caused the ruckus. A few moments later I was beginning to nod off when I was startled by Karen knocking on the driver’s side window. “Come on,” she motioned, “you have to see this.”
She led me back inside to a large window over- looking the paved play ground as she excitedly said “there’s a Cooper’s hawk eating a bird on the fence.” I approached the window and strained to look across the way at the fence line but couldn’t see anything. “No,” she said “right there.” And I saw it, not 10 feet from the window, on top of a chain-link fence, an immature Cooper’s hawk ravenously eating a songbird. It had been at it for several minutes by the time I got there making the identification of the hawk’s lunch difficult.
It was the end of the school day and the 2 classes we had visited that day passed on their way to the buses. The teacher’s had their students get ready early and took them outside to watch the drama taking place outside. One of them commented on how sad it was while another said that we all have to eat.
My fears that the hawk would get distracted by the students and abandon its meal, were unfounded as it continued to eat with 40 kindergarteners a mere 20 feet away. Karen and I continued to observe from the window, as the hawk downed everything edible on that bird, including both legs, which was almost painful to watch. When there was nothing left but a few feathers clinging to its toes the Cooper’s hawk cleaned his talons and beak on the fence before taking flight.
We went outside and joined the students just before they left for the waiting buses. I picked up some feathers that had begun drifting in the light breeze. They were predominantly gray with orange-red tips and I realized that the Cooper’s hawk had dined on an American Robin. I shared this knowledge with the students and they all thought that it was one of the coolest things they had ever seen. As someone ten times older than they are I had to agree.