Cooper’s Hawk


The Cooper’s Hawk shown in this print was photographed on a wooden porch in a cluster of vacant buildings near the corner of Essex and Elm streets:


Below, a field recording posted to the bird audio archive site Xeno-Canto:

Winter brings the Cooper’s Hawks into the city.

For several weeks over the winter, I couldn’t take a birding walk downtown without seeing three or more of them.

The Cooper’s Hawk, known for its agility in flight, mostly eats small birds — and Holyoke offers a decent menu all through the winter. European Starlings, House Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mourning Doves and even American Robins are plentiful.

Over the past several years, some researchers have found greater populations of Cooper’s Hawks in urban and suburban areas than in the woodlands they typically inhabit.

In Heritage State Park, I’d often spot one or two high in trees, watching and waiting.

On the day I photographed this Cooper’s Hawk, I’d already seen one in the park when, on a whim, I walked a few blocks to check on the construction progress for a major renovation of the city’s library.

Walking by the library, I saw a raptor swoop out of tree and land in a lot outside two vacant apartment buildings. From there, it flew to a wooden porch, where it roosted for several minutes.

Until I found the hawk, I’d never encountered a good story at this site.

A few years back, the historic apartment known as the Barlow burned on this block, and I talked to a man sitting on a curb across the street as he tried to figure out how to move forward after losing his home.

During another visit to this place, while shooting a photo essay about a needle exchange program that opened in the city, I watched one of the harm reduction counselors use heavy-duty plastic pliers pluck a used syringe from the stairs that lead to one of the vacant building’s basement. People would crawl under the adjacent porch to shoot heroin, she said, so it was a spot she always checked on her rounds of harvesting needles and leaving behind literature about the program along with condoms, clean gauze and cookers.

A few months after that visit, watching the Cooper’s Hawk sitting on that porch made it hardly feel like the same place.

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