Keeping Busy During the Quarantine: Make Your Own Suet

I have wanted to make my own suet for a while now. I found a fellow blogger with a recipe that I thought seemed relatively straightforward, but I never seemed to find the time to experiment with it. Well thanks to the quarantine, I have all the time in the world to experiment. And, I ran out of suet, so it seemed like a sign. Luckily I also had all the ingredients that I needed.

I followed a single recipe, which I found here: https://www.houseofhawthornes.com/diy-birdseed-cakes-aka-let-them-eat-cake/ That being said, there were a few differences that I should note right up front. I was unable to find a single jello mold of the size recommended by Pam Kessler in her recipe. So what I ended up with was a mini loaf pan with nine rectangular spaces. Since these suet cakes would fit into my suet holder, I decided to dispense with the straw and string.

I highly recommend having all the ingredients measured out and ready to go, because once you start, there is definitely a finite amount of time. I wasn’t quite ready, and my husband ended up having to sweep in and act as sous chef. My cake-like batter turned out a bit thicker than I expected, and much faster than I expected. More like stirring thick peanut butter or gum, rather than cake batter. It definitely wouldn’t have flowed into the mold on its own.

I lowered the heat way down and I ended up adding more water, to get it back to a more liquid consistency. I think I probably added roughly another ½ cup of water. But that seemed to loosen up the batter enough to allow the whole amount (three cups) of seed to be stirred in successfully, with a bit of elbow grease.

When I spooned the mixture out into the molds, I only filled eight of the nine sections, thinking that it was better to pack those sections I filled as tightly as possible. I opted to cool them in the refrigerator, rather than the freezer, because we did not have enough room in our freezer.

The next morning, I pulled them out of the refrigerator to give them a look. They had solidified nicely and were very hard. They also popped out of the mold with relative ease.

Without too much effort, I was able to fit two of my homemade suet cakes into the holder, and as you can see, I had some customers shortly after hanging it out. Bon appétit!

Carolina Wrens with the Wrong Baby

When you sit in your backyard watching the bird feeders as regularly as I do, occasionally you get lucky and see something really out of the ordinary. I had one such a sighting on a June afternoon. I was reading my book in the yard, keeping an eye on the feeders and my camera on my lap, just in case. I noticed that I had a Carolina Wren on my feeder. While I have had House Wrens and Carolina Wrens in my yard before (just last summer a pair of House Wrens occupied one of my birdhouses) they are still a rare enough visitor to illicit a little extra excitement from me. So I was happily snapping away for quite a while. Long enough to realize that it wasn’t one Carolina Wren visiting my seed feeders, but a pair. They seemed to be visiting the feeder, stocking up and flying off. To feed a baby I assumed, which is a safe guess regarding that type of behavior in June. After a while I thought about the situation in more detail. Wrens had been in my yard before, but never visited the feeder because…suddenly it clicked that they only eat insects. They do not eat seeds or feed them to their nestlings. So what the heck were they doing carting off all my seeds?!

At the rate they kept disappearing and reappearing I decided they couldn’t have been going very far. So I decided to investigate. Very slowly I got up from my chair and slowly skirted my way around the bird feeders, making a very large circle so as not to scare and scatter the other birds eating. From my new vantage point I could see that the Carolina Wrens were landing on a low branch in one of the trees that represents the boundary between our yard and the neighbors’. So very, very slowly and making many long pauses along my way, I slowly advanced toward the branch in question.

Once I made it more or less directly under the tree, the whole picture began to take shape. What I found on the branch was a giant fledgling. Well, giant compared to the Carolina Wrens. It was exhibiting typical fledgling behavior, making lot of noise, moving awkwardly and opening its mouth to indicate that it was hungry. While I was trying to determine exactly what this fledgling was and how it fit into the larger mystery of the Carolina Wrens and my birdseed, one of the wrens landed next to this massive baby and began to feed it the seeds. And it all became clear. Well sort of.

After some research I was able to determine that the fledgling I had seen was a young Brown-headed Cowbird. As I mentioned in my post about them, Brown-headed Cowbirds do not incubate or raise their own chicks. Instead they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds in the hopes that some will survive. Many birds recognize the Cowbird eggs as impostors and either remove the eggs from their nest or destroy the eggs. However, still other species, such as the Wrens that feature in this story, keep the Cowbird eggs and treat the chick as their own.

Of course one could choose to look at this tale with cynicism and negativity. Yes, it is awful to think that the Carolina Wrens eggs likely perished and the pairs was left with this huge demanding impostor. Almost an ugly duckling story, if the ugly duckling had been less sad and much more demanding (which, in reality, as a young swan, he probably would have been). And then there is the obvious question…how dumb are wrens that they think this thing could possibly belong to them? Even as a baby he towered over them both. But what really grabbed at me was that they had figured out to feed him what it was he needed to eat. How many other animals would have realized… “honey he really doesn’t seem into the spiders and the grubs, maybe we should try seeds and see what happens?” How did they know? Instinct? Because if it is instinct, that opens an even greater realm of possibilities. If they have the built in instincts to feed the Cowbird babies, perhaps nature gave them the instincts so that the Cowbirds, rejected from so many nests, would find one species of willing foster parents. So while many bird lovers are bemoaning the fact that the Brown-headed Cowbird kills the eggs of so many different songbird species, maybe they should stop and consider that nature does everything for a reason. The Cowbirds are just as necessary as the Carolina Wrens.

The Gray Catbird

The Gray Catbird is one species that I have become acquainted with since I started feeding the birds. They are fairly common, and now that I know what I am looking for, I seem to see them everywhere. But I honestly never noticed them before, which is really a shame. While they may not be colorful songbirds, they are beautiful in their own, subtle way.

According to most field guides, Catbirds are more often heard than seen. While that might be the case if you are walking on an unfamiliar path, in general, I find that if you hear a Gray Catbird call and stop to look for it, you will see it. They aren’t particularly shy birds. They also aren’t small birds that are able to easily hide, unless the vegetation is very thick. I find that they tend to exhibit the bold personality of most birds their size (at nine inches they are about the same size as an American Robin or Kingbird).

So don’t be discouraged by what the field guides say. If you want to see a Gray Catbird, just keep looking for one. Of course you will need to know what you are looking for. All Catbirds look similar, even the juveniles quickly develop to look like their parents. As its name implies, the Gray Catbird is primarily gray, a very pretty slate gray. The Catbird does have other colors in distinct areas, including a black hood or cap on its head. Its beak and legs are also black, as are its penetrating, large black eyes. If you are lucky you will also spot a flash of rusty red that can be seen under the Catbird’s tail and on its butt. You many have more chances to see this patch of rust than you would think, as the Catbird often uses its tail as a rudder for balance. As a result, you will often see a Catbird carefully perched, with its tail pointed toward the sky. This rusty section under its tail also plays a part in attracting a mate, with males showing their rusty bottoms to potential mates at the end of a several part mating ritual.

But even beyond looks, it is the sound of the Gray Catbird that lets you know of its presence. The origin of their common name gives you a big hint. The Catbird is known for the meowing sound it sometimes makes. Don’t believe me? Check out this link, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Catbird/sounds. Of course the meow isn’t the only call a Catbird can make. They do sing in other tones and were known by the Chippewa Indians as Bird That Cries With Grief because of the mournful cry they make. The Gray Catbird has also been known to mimic other birds. Unlike the Northern Mockingbird or other species that copy sounds, the Catbird does not repeat a song or sound more than once.

Keep an eye out for Catbirds in shrubs. They do like the cover of dense forests, but that can include spaces in parks or even wooded backyards. They like to eat both insects and fruit/berries so you can often see and hear them foraging in leaf piles. That being said, they do come to feeders. I have seen them at seed, suet and jelly feeders, and they aren’t shy of their fellow diners in the least. According to the field guides, the babies are fed exclusively on insects alone. However, I have witnessed Catbirds taking mouthfuls of suet off to nesting young, so you have a lot of food options to attract them to your space.

Gray Catbirds are not a year round resident of New Jersey, with the exception of the shore and southern counties. They usually depart for warmer living by late September, returning to meow at us again by late April. So fill your feeders and keep your eyes peeled, your ears ready and maybe you will spot a Gray Catbird yourself!

House Wrens

Regular readers of this blog will probably have realized by now that I am not a bird watcher who focuses on the pretty birds. What I enjoy about bird watching is the challenge of seeing new and different birds. And that often includes common backyard birds that are less likely to hang out at a bird feeder.

Under those circumstances, the House Wren has become one of my favorite birds. Tiny and relatively fast moving, it is difficult to catch a glimpse of a House Wren. Even harder to get a decent photograph. Over time I have begun to shamelessly court the House Wren with special bird houses. I was lucky enough last summer to have a pair of House Wrens settle in one of my bird houses and raise four little ones. You can read about it in my post A Family of Wrens https://tailsofatwitcher.com/2019/08/08/a-family-of-wrens/). But despite these successes, the House Wren is still fairly challenging to capture in photos, making the chase all that much more exhilarating.

At five inches, House wrens are very small. They are also fairly dull and camouflaged being a muted brown with some lighter brown markings, which you will only see if it sits still long enough for you to get a good look. They have rounder bodies, short legs (with disproportionately long toes) and short wings. Besides its small size, its long curved beak and habit of perching with its tail erect are two if its most distinguishing features.

A common summer resident of the whole Garden State, House Wrens usually return from wintering in Mexico around mid-April and you will begin to hear their songs as the males search for mates in May. You can often spot House Wrens foraging for insects to eat among the leaves. Their diet consists of only insects and invertebrates, including snails.

House Wrens prefer to nest in a cavity and have two broods a year, of between four and six tan eggs. The pair are truly a team, with both the male and female incubating and feeding the young. House Wrens are also very territorial and will destroy the nests and eggs of other House Wrens or other birds that are too near their nesting ground. One of the facts I love about House Wrens is that the male will build more than one nest. He then lets his mate choose the nest she prefers and then she helps him to finish up the building. One of the first House Wrens I had the opportunity to observe was making a nest in a neighboring porch ceiling. He was no dummy! He was prepping several nests, but no one ever said they needed to be in different locations. He selected three identical roof beams in a row, and he prepped them all without having to fly all over the place. Once his lady picked her favorite, they used material from the other two partial nests to finish off their renovations.

One of the magical things about the House Wren is its song. So loud and clear and beautiful. According the Cornell Lab All About Birds website, the House Wren’s songs “are a long, jumbled bubbling introduced by abrupt churrs and scolds and made up of 12-16 recognizable syllables.” If you would like to hear one for yourself, you can visit their website and listen to several clips, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Wren/sounds.

There are several other species of Wren in Eastern North America, including the Carolina Wren which is a common wren in New Jersey. But discussing the similarities and differences of these varieties could be an entire post on its own.

Bird Watching in the Days of Social Distance

As so many of us are entering into our fourth week of self quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the struggle to maintain some sense of normality and sanity continues. As many of us work from home, or try to work from home, and so many others are faced with unemployment during the crisis, it is important that we continue to experience the calming effects of nature and the outdoors. And this we can do right in our own backyards and gardens. Just walking outside your door to do some yard work in the sunshine and fresh air can help to ease some of the tension and anxiety, even if just for a short amount of time. You should think of your yard as your sanctuary. This is especially true now that many of the parks in northern New Jersey have been closed to the public. Those of us who are used to traveling to the birds must now be content with seeing only those birds that come to visit us.

March did not come in like a lion this year, but it demonstrated variable and unpredictable tendencies that fluctuated between lion and lamb all month. Thus far April seems to be more accepting that spring has arrived. In our house we know that spring has arrived when we start to be awoken daily by the hammering of a Woodpecker on the outside of our house. I am not sure if it is the same Woodpecker every year, or even every morning, but our vinyl cedar shake shading seems to really have a special attraction, which is lacking in the dozens of trees in a 3 yard radius.

Watching the feeders right now is like a reunion. All our summer favorites have returned from their winter abodes and are getting settled back in. And those winter residents that never left us seem to be venturing out a bit more than they do in the winter, taking advantage of the change in the weather to begin bulking up. Even if we cannot see them all, we can most certainly hear them. With so many birds in the neighborhood establishing their territorial boundaries, searching for mates and seeming to be generally happy that the sun is somewhat shining, the neighborhood is alive with bird song.

Just a few days ago I decided to put my finch feeder back out on the post and see if I could attract New Jersey’s state bird, the goldfinch. In less than twenty-four hours I had success. The males were still molting into their bright yellow summer outfits, but they came none the less. I have been very pleased with the variety of birds I have seen this early in April. This includes some less frequent visitors, such as a curious Carolina Wren and a chatty Brown-headed Cowbird. Even one Dark-Eyed Junco is still kicking around. He seemed unconvinced that winter has left for good, but I think he is alone in that thinking.

Besides being as hungry as ever, they also seem to have that nesting bug. Both of my nest boxes are already humming with activity as two pairs of House Sparrows do their part to increase the population.

So try to take a few minutes each day to go outside and take it all in. The world hasn’t ended and life is going to carry on just as it always has. We will be able to get out to our nature preserves and parks soon, so just hang in there and take quarantine one day at a time.

Bird Watching in the Cemetery

I spent one Sunday morning in Cedar Lawn Cemetery, in search of the ever elusive Bald Eagle. I have written about Bald Eagles on this blog before, but they are just so impressive, it is hard not to keep gravitating toward them.

On this particular occasion, a sunny but cold and windy day in mid December, I went in search of the nest I had heard was somewhere inside the cemetery. I have said it once, but I will say it again. You know a Bald Eagle nest when you see it. Imposing, huge and dramatic are some of the first words that come to mind. It took me a little time to find it, but it was just where one would expect, in the Y of one of the tallest trees in the area. It was comprised of sticks that look more like branches than twigs. Of course, my luck only ran so far. I found the nest and photographed it, but the Bald Eagles were not at home. Probably out Sunday brunching on the Passaic River.

Found on the Passaic County Historical Society’s website at
https://lambertcastle.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/cedarlawn_map.jpg

I have been in Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson many times. It is a really nice and very historic rural cemetery, full of some of the area’s most notable residents, including Vice President Garret Hobart and several the silk manufacturers who helped put Paterson on the map as Silk City. The artistic nature and architectural beauty of many of the gravestone and mausoleums is also worth noting.

This was the first time I walked through the cemetery looking for birds. I was pleasantly surprised by just how many different species I encountered. I am not sure why I was surprised, the cemetery is fairly wild considering it is in a city and right next to a highway. There is a small herd of deer that live inside the cemetery grounds. In the spring you see the fawns resting up against the headstones.

Besides the deer, I saw many of our neighborhood favorites including a mourning doves (never more appropriately named), Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Dark Eyed Juncos. An entire flock of Canada Geese seemed right at home as well.

I also saw several species of woodpeckers, including the Hairy Woodpecker, the Red Bellied Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker. I am pretty sure I also saw a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, though the encounter was brief and as you can see the photo is blurry.

The odd seagull flew over, as did a whole flock of ravens or crows. They never seemed to settle on anything long enough for me to get a good look at their features. A Northern Mockingbird kept me company while I was on the Bald Eagle stakeout. It kept hopping from grave to grave, and then posing… “now my left side, now my right… looking straight at the camera, now back to the left side…” A hawk, probably a Red Tailed Hawk, landed briefly in a tree near the Eagle nest before he took off again.

I have no doubt that I will be visiting Cedar Lawn’s bird population often, and not just in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the Eagles.

Bread-Should We Feed it to Birds?

I would like to definitively settle an ongoing debate, at least for myself. Can we feed birds bread, or are we hurting them? To provide a bit of background, I grew up feeding the ducks stale bread. It was an annual vacation tradition with my grandmother. We went up to Lake George, settled into O’Sullivan’s Motel and headed down to the beach to feed the ducks. I am pretty sure that grandma rationed grandpa’s bread intake for a few weeks to amass the quantity of stale bread she deemed an adequate offering to our feathered friends. So I grew up feeding the ducks bread and I sentimentally view it as a fun pastime, one that I want to share with the little ones in my life.

As an adult I recognize that feeding the birds, particularly waterfowl, is a complex issue. If you feed birds in one location too often, they can develop a dependence on that food source instead of seeking their food. In public spaces, such as parks and beaches, there is a human health concern to attracting birds who then assemble in large numbers, fowling the area. Excess bread can also mold and negatively effect the water in which the birds live. This is especially the case in ponds and small bodies of still water. The birds can also, especially Canada Geese and Swans, be unfriendly and have been known to attack small children when they have felt threatened. In this post I don’t want to focus on any of these components of the larger discussion. I simply want to discern if I am physically hurting a bird by feeding it bread.

According the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, bread will not harm birds if ingested. They can fully digest bread of all types. But there is a but. While they will eat it, bread does not provide the protein or fat the birds really need. It is an empty filler. Carbs, even birds should avoid them! It is okay to leave out bread, but try not to offer it too often or exclusively, as it can cause vitamin deficiency if it becomes a staple of the bird’s diet. If you are leaving out bread, you should break it into smaller pieces, especially in the spring. Hard stale bread should be soaked so it is easier to digest. Multigrain bread is better for birds than overly processed white bread. You can also add protein by spreading jelly, marmalade or nut butter on the bread. The spreads can even be topped with seeds, dried fruit or insects, making the bread a platform, rather than the main food source.

Furthermore, there is a variety of household food waste that can be left out for birds rather than thrown away: the cut fat from unsalted meat, mild cheeses (grated), dried or bruised fruit, baked or mashed potatoes and pastry (cooked or uncooked). Seeds from pumpkins or squash can also be left out for the birds. If you are feeding waterfowl, greens, such as lettuce would also be a good choice, just be sure it is chopped into a manageable size. Non-salted food is the key here as any human salt will be harmful to the birds.

Sources:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/feeding-birds/safe-food-for-birds/household-scraps-for-birds/

https://lifehacker.com/dont-feed-bread-to-birds-1833943997

https://www.thespruce.com/good-bread-for-birds-385833

Felt Birdhouses: An Update

My Wild Woolies Felt Birdhouse has arrived! After much debate over which style I wanted, I decided on the Pixie Cottage. I guess I am still too much of a traditionalist to have birds living in a face. If I am honest, I did almost go with the Gnome before deciding I liked the Cottage look.

Upon its arrival, I inspected the house thoroughly. I am impressed with the quality of the wool, which is thicker than I expected and seems fairly sturdy. I like all of the details of the house even better in person and I was very pleased that it looks almost exactly like the photo on the website.

One feature that I was pleasantly surprised to find was the opening at the bottom for cleaning out old nesting material. I think that will turn out to be pretty handy if the house can withstand the elements for more than one season.

On a related note, I am starting to see Wild Woolies products available in stores. There was a selection of houses on sale in the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park store in Peninsula, Ohio. I also noticed a variety of the wool Christmas ornaments were hanging up in a Whole Foods in North Jersey this past December. So keep your eyes peeled!

This is the update for now. For the rest of this experiment we will all just have to wait in suspense until spring!

Blue Jays- The Bully of the Backyard

I have seen numerous references to Blue Jays as “the sentinels of the forest,” sounding the alarm of danger for their fellow birds and other woodland creatures. I feel that this title attributes a benevolent quality to the Blue Jay’s actions which is totally unwarranted. True, Blue Jays often send out loud cries which serve as a warning to the rest of the animals in the immediate vicinity. However, rather than the primary purpose of the call, this is often a coincidental side effect, if not a deliberate misrepresentation, designed to scare the other birds away from what the Blue Jays covet for themselves.

Based on my observations, rather than the overseer of safety, I think it would be more accurate to classify the Blue Jays as the bombastic and inflated characters that they are. John James Audubon, for whom many bird watching societies are named, referred to Blue Jays as “mischievous.” Like the bully in a playground, the Blue Jays very loudly and pompously push their way into the midst of the feeder crowd, using their superior size and prancing movements to intimidate and push their fellow birds from the seed or perch they plan to possess.

Don’t get me wrong, Blue Jays are a beautiful bird. Familiar to most people, at about twelve inches long, the Blue Jay ‘s back, head and tail are a bright, light blue, decorated with horizontal stripes along the bottom of its wings and length of its tail. A fluffier white-gray belly and neck provides some contrast. Its face is bordered in a black semi-circle, almost like a beard. Its head is topped with a distinct crest, adding an almost regal formality to the Blue Jay’s overall appearance.

One of the reasons Blue Jays are so familiar to us is directly due to human interaction. Blue Jays have adapted well to human populations, both urban and suburban and are just as comfortable in a yard or park as they are in the forest. People are a consistent and convenient source of food all year and as a result very few Blue Jays migrate in the winter. They have a varied diet of bugs, fruit, seeds, nuts (they are very partial to peanuts specifically) and carrion which allows them additional flexibility in their various habitats. They also cache food, a behavior uncommon in birds. In the spring, Blue Jays supplement their diets by attacking the nests of other birds and eating their eggs or newly hatched nestlings. Yes, Blue Jays eat babies. While they are not the only bird species to behave in this manner, this activity is leading to a decline in many forest’s song bird populations as nest robber population, including the Blue Jay increase due to their positive relations to humans.

Blue Jays are interesting it watch. The have a curious and inquisitive nature that seems to imply a deeper intelligence. Matched with their seeming fearlessness, these qualities find them often invading humans’ personal space bubbles similar to seagulls approaching beach goers. But while their “mischievous” actions may be funny, remember that they can also be aggressive and even mean to other species.

Blue Jays can definitely hold their own, and have been known to mob (or attack as a group) owls and other large predator birds. Their imitation of a hawk can scatter birds in an instant and the juveniles seem to pick up this loud-mouth quality very early on. The cries of a juvenile Blue Jay are some of the loudest and most unsettling sounds of nature. They seem to feel that their parents need a constant verbal reminder to feed them immediately! This behavior lasts for the first twenty days of their life, after which point they are responsible for feeding themselves.

So there you have it, a loud-mouth bully with aggressive behavior. Next time you admire the beautiful blue of a Blue Jay, just remember that appearance is only one aspect of its complex character.

To experience the sounds of the Blue Jay for yourself, visit https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue_Jay/sounds

Cooper’s Hawk

This November I was able to add a new bird to my list. I was particularly pleased about this sighting as it was not only a new bird, but a new bird of prey. In my own backyard, literally. Thank goodness for the strong fall breezes removing most of the leaves from the trees. I had only been sitting out for about fifteen minutes, relaxing and waiting for the birds to get used to my presence and return to the feeders, when they all called out this horrible racket. As the Cooper’s Hawk settled down on a nearby branch, the trees erupted with objections from every other feathered and furred creature in the vicinity. The Blue Jays attempted to intimidate the predator with there loudest shrieks. The Squirrels making their panic noise, which is a cross between the sound of a dry-heave and nails on a chalkboard. The House Sparrows were also adding their sweet voices, not so much to intimidate as to deter the would be predator by demonstrating their greater numbers. Together these sounds and calls created the most inharmonious chorus ever heard. And they just kept it up!

At first I thought they were disturbed by the neighbor’s cat, who I had seen rushing from the middle of the next yard a moment earlier. This is a fairly regular occurrence. Later I realized that the cat was also panicked by the Hawk and running for his life. Not to sound too mean, but I took a slight bit of satisfaction that for once the cat was being terrorized, instead of terrorizing. But when the cat appears the ruckus soon calms down. With the cat gone, I started looking for another reason for their unhappiness. And that was when I spotted it. To have that kind of power to have just your silent presence on a branch cause so much commotion.

I knew instantly that this magnificent creator was not a Red-Tailed Hawk, the species of hawk seen very often in our town, especially in the nearby park. The darker color of the wings was my first indication that this bird was different. A quick look at its tail and rump confirmed that it was not the Red-Tailed Hawk (pictured on right below). The hatch marks of the feathers along the belly were also differently patterned and more heavily colored.

The Cooper’s Hawk is considered a medium sized hawk. They measure between just over a foot to twenty inches. The females are slightly larger than their male counterparts, but this is their only difference in appearance. The Cooper’s Hawk has a white chest, which appears rusty due to the closely placed hatch-marks on his belly feathers. Its back and wings are a slate gray and its tail is also gray and long, with a rounded end and a series of black bands running along the width of its tail. The face of the Cooper’s Hawk made the greatest impression on me. A fierce intelligence radiates from its red eyes. The top of its head is capped with dark gray feathers, while its cheek is covered in a rust colored blush, which further helps to emphasize the bird’s eyes. The Cooper’s Hawk looks almost the same as the Sharp-shinned Hawk except it is larger and has rounded tail where the Sharp-shinned has a squared tail.

The Cooper’s Hawk has shorter wings than some other hawks, a feature that helps them steer through trees. They apply ambush tactics when hunting and have been known to spend time at or near feeders, hoping to pick off an unsuspecting songbird. They are mostly silent, calling only to or from their nests. This quiet adds to their aura of danger and menace. While their diet is mostly comprised of smaller birds and small mammals, they have been known to eat reptiles and amphibians in a pinch.

While this species of hawk is present in New Jersey year round, some birds do migrate to Mexico and other warmer areas in the south. While their population was badly affected by DDT pollution in the 1950s-1980s, today they are a common bird. Spotting them however is often by chance. Knowing that I feel doubly lucky that I chose that morning to enjoy a bit of the autumn sunshine.