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Cooper's Hawk Encounter

Updated on June 4, 2013

I walked along the Florida bike path to get a little exercise while on my lunch break. Perfect mid-March weather brought out golf carts, bikers, joggers and other foot traffic. The sound of a golf cart coming up behind me warned me to move to the left. Blam! Something hit me in the head! Laughter from the golf cart made me think the passengers had thrown something at meā€¦until the large hawk swooped overhead, gained altitude and disappeared into the trees. That hawk hit me in the back of the head!

Cooper's Hawk nest
Cooper's Hawk nest | Source

Why Cooper's Hawks Dive-Bomb People

A few weeks later, while walking that same path the bird hit me again. I had thought the first time an accident, but twice? No way.

I went back to the office and grabbed the digital camera. I hurried back to to the area and spotted the hawk atop a telephone pole. I took a few photos of her and went back to the office. When I showed the snapshots to my boss, an avid hunter and fisherman, he identified it as a Cooper's Hawk. I started my research and found them to be fascinating birds.

The females are larger than the males, and I was pretty sure the broad-breasted bird that hit me was a female. The horizontal bars marking the tail feathers and wings are distinct, but they are sometimes mistaken for the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The more I read, the clearer it became that the bird didn't hit me in the head twice by accident. Cooper's Hawks maneuver easily at high speeds as they cut around trees and shrubbery. Even if it was chasing a bird, it wouldn't have bumped me in the head twice within a couple of weeks. It made me wonder if my silver hair could have been mistaken for some sort of animal.

Cooper's Hawk Defends Nest

The Nest and Young

My research paid off. I learned these predatory birds will dive-bomb people who come near their nests. That made sense. It happened to me along the same stretch both times.

I returned to the scene to see if I could locate the nest. It was well camouflaged in a tall pine to the right. I tried to take a picture, but it blended in so well that it looked more like a shadow high in the branches. Cooper's Hawks often build their nests about two-thirds up the tree, and I would never have seen it if I wasn't looking for it.

The Hawk Tried to Scare Me Away But Didn't Hurt Me

As I went for my daily walks I became more aware of the world above me. I often saw the female on top of the telephone pole. It wouldn't surprise me if that's where she was sitting when she decided to target my head. Shortly thereafter, I spotted two juvenile Cooper's Hawks. As a bird owner and lover of wildlife, the thing I find remarkable is that the bird did not hurt me. It only bumped me. A clear message to scare me away. Without that bump in the head, I may never have noticed the beautiful bird or her young.


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