Curse of the Blue Streak

I mentioned in a previous post that we picked up a bunch of quail for training our Hungarian pointer (Vizsla), Ritka. Yesterday, Diane went out to the bird house we have for quail, chukar, and pigeons to collect a couple of quail. She discovered that an extra bird had gotten into the house, presumably through the pigeon door bobs: a Cooper’s hawk. It was helping itself to dinner in the form of one of the quail. We had to kill that quail; raptors are not always considerate of niceties like whether the prey item they are munching on is actually dead or not. I’m not sure what would have ensued if the Cooper’s hawk had been stuck in the house after its meal, since the pigeon door bobs are designed for one-way access. Would it have ended up perched next to the chukar? We don’t know exactly.

In any case, Diane managed to extract the Cooper’s hawk from the bird house. Somewhere in there, the Cooper’s hawk attached itself firmly to Diane’s right breast. This is something that you really don’t want to try at home. It took a while for it to decide that it could let go. Once we had the Cooper’s hawk free and clear of tender body parts, I got a few pictures. These will illustrate something about the nickname for these birds, “blue streak”. I set the camera to program mode, upping the bias for higher shutter speeds, set crop mode, and put it in continuous high-speed mode. With those settings, I expect to get 8 frames per second. First, a couple pics of bird in the hand:

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Now for the release… These are all the photos I have that have some part of the Cooper’s hawk in the frame. Mind you, I set up to capture frames quickly and was prepared to try to follow movement… and I failed. The blue streak is nothing if not fast.

There you have it. Instead of a long series showing the blue streak flying off into the sunset, I have about one second’s worth of it flying right out of the frame while I futilely try to keep up.

Diane’s impression at the time was that the Cooper’s hawk took a couple of flaps in the time it took for it to leave the immediate vicinity. The sequence of photos is telling me something different. Notice that the hawk’s wings are in almost the same position in every frame? I’m taking this to mean that there is almost one complete wingbeat per each photo, or almost 8 wingbeats per second from a standing start. Wow.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

5 thoughts on “Curse of the Blue Streak

  • 2008/03/29 at 11:48 am
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    It seems rather agreeable in those photos, by not trying to peck at Diane’s arm?

    Did it freak out when a human came near the cage?

    I’m just wondering if it had experience with humans before.

  • 2008/03/29 at 11:59 am
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    It’s not the beak that’s the dangerous part of a raptor, it’s those talons. Mostly raptors do not try to bite when held. Our male Harris’ hawk, Shelby, is a bit of an exception, and in fact we called him “Biter” for several years.

    This Cooper’s hawk likely had seen us before, as it has previously eaten several of our birds. But I doubt it had ever been so close to a human before.

  • 2008/03/30 at 10:52 am
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    Neat story. Bold little bugger! “Ah, a buffet!”

    I’d be scared to hold one in a bare fist, but you obviously have more experience than I.

    I don’t think that last frame has any hawk in it at all.

  • 2008/03/30 at 10:56 am
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    Unromantic fact of the week: falconry died out rapidly after the invention of the shotgun. Until then, it was the only way to take the fight to bird pests in the air.

  • 2008/03/30 at 11:16 am
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    That last empty frame proves that I failed to keep up with the departing Coops.

    I don’t think Diane had a glove with her when she visited the bird house, therefore the bare hand. What she really needed was body armor.

    While I wouldn’t say “died out”, falconry certainly became far less practiced when it became a leisure sport rather than the most practical means of obtaining meat for the table. There are several thousand licensed falconers in the USA currently.

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