We were just returning from an exploratory walk in Mission Creek Nature Park in northeast Olympia when we observed a still figure perched on a fence railing. As we quietly approached, my friend noted the white breast with its few streaks of brown and the banded tail, “It must be a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. It doesn’t know enough yet to fly away.” Not that we posed any danger; we stood still in awe just drinking in its form while it appeared indifferent to our presence. But who could tell what such a wild creature was thinking? We were not as interesting as a mouse or small fluttering bird! Its expression was a blank to us but we were thrilled to be touched, even remotely, by our brush with untamed nature.
Mission Creek Nature Park, now that I think about it in hawk terms, offers a good habitat: “forest, broken woodland, farms, neighborhoods,” as listed by my handy guide, Birds of the Puget Sound Region, by Bob Morse, Tom Aversa and Hal Opperman. They note that these hawks are fairly common and can be found throughout the region. Had it chosen, the hawk could have burst from its perch with speed; had we been prey it would have snatched us in a swoop of its wings. It is known to haunt birdfeeders. Its call is said to be a “repeated kek” with a nasal twang. That day, however, it remained impassively silent. We slipped away.
The park offered a perfect edge environment inside the city, with enough forested land, grassy fields, and some wetland areas with low bushes to support a healthy hawk, handily supplemented with birdfeeders in nearby back yards. Reading the work of University of Washington Professor of Wildlife Science John Marzluff has changed the way I see this mixed landscape. In his Welcome to Subirdia study, Marzluff studies both the new opportunities these human disturbed places created for birds—and other adaptable wildlife like coyotes—as well as the hardships for those whose needs are not flexible. While still working to save true wilderness, we should also value these accessible places where many birds can flourish.
Margaret wrote extensively about gardens and birds-in-gardens. She would have enjoyed Marzluff’s work immensely as it confirmed what she already knew: that we can all make the world friendlier for birds if we take into account their needs for food, water and shelter along with our own needs. We can co-exist. The sight of a magnificent Cooper’s Hawk could be our reward for leaving some spaces “wild enough.”
See my review of Mazluff’s book, Welcome to Subirdia in The Echo, the online publication of Black Hills Audubon Society, January 15, 2018 edition: https://blackhills-audubon.org/armchair-birding/