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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tough Neighbors--Coopers Hawks

Air Date: Week of

Coopers Hawk (Photo: Finiky)

Getting to know your neighbors is a pleasure of life in the South of the US. But as commentator Pat Priest of Athens Georgia observes, some neighbors can both charm and repulse us.


CURWOOD: One of the great joys of life in the American South can be getting to know and understand your neighbors really well. Commentator Pat Priest of Athens, Georgia, though, finds the way some of them behave is alternately delightful - and off-putting.

PRIEST: I caught my neighbors in our pool some weeks ago, two of them, bathing. I slipped back into the shadows of my den and pulled out my binoculars. My husband and I bought a better pair just for this reason. Spying on the neighbors is endlessly fascinating.

I don't know where they spend the winter. The parents fly in sometime in the spring to ready their home. Only when the weather warms do we see the mom and her plump babies out and about, hunched . . . and see her watching us, eagle-eyed.

She's often gorging on some kind of meat, ripping, ripping, head back pulling. I shout, "Hullo!" to them sometimes, but the mother only shrieks to her youngsters to stay back. I'm wary of them, too. When my mom visited with her tiny Chihuahua-mix, I never let the pup outside without supervision.

Through the binoculars I study one of the youngsters. It looks like he has yellow tights on. They all have the loveliest breasts – like vanilla ice cream streaked with caramel. Their toenails, their beaked noses could rip me to shreds. I see this one scratching his face. That has got to hurt!

They're big; maybe 18 inches tall. Coopers Hawks, I think. I get some of my best nature watching in while I'm brushing my teeth, standing at the window that looks out at the woods. Once I saw one of the hawks sitting on the fence, minding its own business. Suddenly a squirrel rushed at him, running along the fence top, appearing out of nowhere. The hawk exploded in flight.

Coopers Hawk (Photo: Pete)

What instinct or desperate courage propelled that squirrel?

Another time I watched as a hawk - maybe in a grudge match - raced after a squirrel, which circled round and round a tree trunk. I'd seen squirrels chase each other in tight circles and figured it was only playful - or fueled by romance. That practice paid off: the hawk couldn't turn in such spirals, and the squirrel got away. That time.

This year the hawks have moved into our blueberry patch, and we didn’t even need to cover our blueberries to keep birds out, as about 80 percent of a Cooper's Hawk's diet consists of birds. The hawks are like scarecrows that suddenly pounce.

Sometimes I see the red and dun-colored feathers of their victims. I'd like to shout up at them: can't we all be vegans here?

Thoreau wrote, ‘I love a broad margin to my life.’

Our woods are a green and leafy margin that provides astonishing sights and sustains my neighbors . . . owls, bats, salamanders, inchworms, and more. Whether they're passing through or live here year round.

I don’t see or hear the hawks much these days, a sure sign that summer is waning. I look at all the wild creatures and think: Rest a while on your journey. Or make yourself at home. I hope these woods provide shelter for many generations of your family.

CURWOOD: Pat Priest teaches nature writing and dreams up fund-raising events for nonprofits in Athens, Georgia. Thanks to Neal Priest for production assistance.



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