While in Cape May, I stumbled upon a demonstration by the Cape May Raptor Banding Project. This is a research project that captures, measures and bands hawks at several sites in the fall to study migration. The researchers also meet the public to discuss their work, bringing banded hawks for up close observation.
And I do mean UP CLOSE. Usually I’m photographing hawks on the wing in the distance. Occasionally I’ll be lucky enough to see one perched nearby. But here was a chance to see and photograph these magnificent birds 10 feet away – and they weren’t going anywhere!
After we’d had a good long look at the Sharpies, they were released. Sharpies live in forests; since they pursue their prey through dense stands of trees, they are speedy and acrobatic fliers. It didn’t take long for them to fly out of sight.
Cooper’s Hawks live in woodlands, but have become quite comfortable in suburban yards. They take an interest in the songbirds on my feeders from time to time.
Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks look very much alike and are difficult to tell apart. Experienced birders talk about differences in tail shape, head size, eye position and other field marks.
Cooper’s Hawks are bigger than Sharpies, but this isn’t apparent unless you have two next to each other to compare. And since female Sharpies are nearly as big as male Cooper’s hawks, it still may not be obvious. This is a Cooper’s, and a big bird, so I think this is the female.
After the two Cooper’s Hawks were released, the last raptor came out to play, a Merlin. Look at those eyes! Quite a contrast to the yellow eyes of the other hawks. Merlins, in fact, aren’t hawks at all, but falcons.
It was magical to spend this time with these beautiful raptors.