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My Column: How Birds Hunt (and Fish)

Ginny Chucka Cooper's Hawk (2)
My column today was inspired by an email from Ginny Chucka, who had a mystery involving a raptor and a Mourning Dove for me.  (That's Ginny's photo of the raptor above.)

You can read it here:

By Jim Wright
Special to The Record

   Murder mystery, anyone? 

   Earlier this fall, Ginny Chucka of Franklin Lakes emailed me about a startling event that had just occurred in her backyard. 

   One afternoon, she heard a crash in her kitchen that was so loud she thought something had fallen out of a cupboard. Then her husband yelled, “Come quick!” 

     Apparently, a bird had hit the window so hard that it knocked the toothpicks off the sill.  Beyond the window was a perched hawk (see photo), looking a bit stunned. Under the window was a dead mourning dove.

    When Ginny told me what had happened, I had a hunch and asked her one question: Were any feeders nearby? 

The short answer was yes, several.

    From this description, can you figure out what happened?

    To confirm my suspicion, I sent a photo of the accipiter to Laurie Goodrich, a top raptor expert at the legendary Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. 

Goodrich, who might be the Sherlock Holmes of consulting avian detectives, identified the hawk in the photo as a young Cooper’s Hawk. As for its crime, she replied: “I’ve heard of Cooper’s hawks taking advantage of a window to stun their prey, especially if they have been hunting feeders regularly.  It’s a fine art though, as they also are often victims of window kills.”

Aside from the dangers involved, I’d say that attacking a smaller bird so it flew into a window was an ingenious way to hunt. That got me to thinking of a bunch of other not-so-bird-brained hunting and fishing methods that birds employ.

For example:

     * On a visit to Yellowstone National Park early one March, I noticed that whenever a bunch of snowmobilers stopped at a fumarole or geyser, one rider always stayed behind to watch the belongings. Otherwise, common ravens would unzip the backpacks and pilfer food.

* Similarly, I’ve seen videos of crows in winter pulling up untended ice-fishing lines and stealing the catch. (Crows have also been known to crack open nuts by leaving them under car tires.)

* If you’ve seen a snowy egret blowing bubbles in shallow water, you’ve watched them go fishing. The bubbles create ripples, which attract their finny prey.

*Cattle egrets -- snowy egrets’ cousins -- hunt as teams. They walk through the underbrush a few feet apart, stirring up dragonflies and other insects. If they can’t snare it, a nearby buddy might have a crack at it.

* My favorite might be green herons and the occasional black-crowned heron. Many folks throw bread on the ground in parks, mistakenly thinking that it’s good for birds. Rather than eat the bread, these herons use it for bait, just like you did when you were a kid. They drop the bait in the water, then nab a feeding fish.

 The common denominator is the birds’ use of tools or ingenuity. I’m sure I’ve overlooked a few more.  Share yours at,

The Bird-watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at