LIVINGSTON COUNTY – A vocal hawk caught the ear of one of Letchworth State Park’s most frequent and passionate visitors on Wednesday.
Ken Wallace is, when he can help it, a daily visitor to the park. His photos and videos constantly delight his Facebook followers. Wednesday morning, though, he heard a call that had even him scratching his head.
“I often hear strange bird calls when I’m hiking deep in the woods that I’m not able to identify,” posted Wallace. “This morning I kept hearing this one particular call that was quite close to me. I finally spotted the bird that was making this call but I am not sure what type it is. Here is about a 55 second video of the bird. I’m sure it is some kind of hawk, so leave a comment if think you know what this bird is.”
Facebook friends swooped in to identify the bird. Answers ranged from ‘falcon’ to ‘peregrine falcon’ to ‘merlin’ to ‘prairie falcon’ to fun suggestions like ‘monkey bird’ and ‘laughing bird.’
Eventually, Facebook proile Elijah Kruger posted a link to a pretty neat feature on the website for the world-renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Audio recordings match up well to the calls in Wallace’s video, making a solid case that this is a Cooper’s hawk, a tricky, fairly elusive accipitrine raptor that is constantly confused with the sharp-shinned hawk.
According to the Audubon Society, another titanic authority on birds, says that the differences are subtle but significant. First, the adult hawks are different sizes, with the sharp-shinned about the size of a blue jay and the Cooper’s about the size of a crow. However, it is difficult to compare them unless the birds are side by side.
The Cooper’s head is also noticeably bigger relative to its body. The sharp-shinned has a more streamlined head.
The last bit of advice from Audubon is to look at the tail on a perched bird. The Cooper’s has a rounded tail tip, as seen in the video, and the sharp-shinned has a more squared tail.
For Wallace, this is another gem of knowledge to add to his trove.
“I knew you would know what this was Elijah,” posted Wallace. “I pass through this area a lot when I am hiking and I have a place there that I like to sit and watch trains pass. That is what I was doing this morning when this guy started up with his calls. I’m wondering if the nest may have been nearby. I was quite a ways from this bird when I videoed him as you can see when I zoomed back.”