An Accipiter and Squirrel Face Off

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Feb 9, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

Today I got to watch a wonderful encounter between an immature Cooper’s Hawk and a Gray Squirrel. There were two squirrels, doing what squirrels do, rummaging about on the grass when I caught sight of a Cooper’s Hawk flying into a nearby tree. The squirrels saw the same thing and froze. Sitting on a branch the large Cooper’s kept turning its head back and forth looking for any sign of movement. Spotting the squirrels she quickly dropped down to the ground as the squirrels scattered. I lost track of one rodent and the other went straight for the closest tree trunk. Interestingly the accipiter hopped and walked around a little as the squirrel positioned itself around the back of the trunk, before coming almost face to face with each other. The squirrel obviously felt safe enough to be only a few feet off the ground facing down the trunk and peering right into the predator’s eyes. The Cooper’s really did not know what to do and eventually gave up and flew off. Was it a lack of experience on the part of the accipter that saved the squirrels life, or did the squirrel intuitively know that this young raptor did not pose that great a danger, and consequently was quiet happy taunting her?

A Cooper’s Hawks diet consists primarily of birds that are often found in flocks such as starlings, doves and pigeons – typically suburban birds! Though it will take smaller birds they are obviously harder to catch. Small mammals like chipmunks are also taken as well as similar sized rodents. Amongst raptors it is the females that are larger in size, which probably explains why this particular bird was willing to take on something as large as a squirrel.

photo © adrian binns

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