Impromptu Cooper's Hawk
Submitted by Rick Reisdorph
Chapter: I: Trapping
It had been awhile since I had flown a passage Coop and I decided if the opportunity presented itself I would take it. I started keeping my eyes open for an urban bird, thinking I would test an idea that I had read about; that urban birds were steadier, presumably because they were accustomed to human activity. I set an automatic trap at a friend's house where he had been seeing passage birds but we had no luck. Time passed. It didn't look like it was going to happen and I wasn't too worried about getting a Coop this particular season so I pretty much quit thinking about it. After awhile I decided to concentrate my time and efforts on my Gos. I didn't need another bird.I was good. That was before we went on the trip.
Our plan was to be gone for about a week, Wolf Bruggeman and I. We would be looking for flights for our birds as well as looking for a passage prairie for Wolf. On about day four it was raining and the wind was blowing about 25 mph with higher gusts. After wasting away in the hotel room for half the day, hoping the weather would settle down, we decided to focus on trapping for the day. It had at least stopped raining. Knowing that most of the birds would be lying low and difficult to spot we were looking for them on low perches, particularly on the downwind side of grassy fence lines, round bails, etc. We drove randomly for about three hours and did see some birds, most of them hunkered down, but only one prairie. And we lost site of her after she flew into an area with no road access.
I had had enough of driving and gave up the wheel to Wolf. We turned down a dirt track road that descended slightly into a draw, more of a depression really, with tall grass and a couple of scraggly low trees. The road rose up as we drew near to an intersection. I looked to my right and saw a bird sitting on a power pole. It was sitting there straight up and down like an extension of the pole, as if it didn't know the wind was blowing 30 mph. I yelled "Stop! Stop! Stop! Back up! Back up! That's a gos sitting there". O.K. I'm not ashamed to admit it, I mis-identified the bird. But it looked BIG. I got excited. What can I say?
Wolf said, "It can't be a Gos." Not necessarily true I argued but that isn't relevant to this story. Well it's an accipiter anyway" I responded, a little out of breath. I was pumped up.
We backed up out of site of the bird. I grabbed a B.C. with a pigeon in it and checked the nooses. I looked up and saw the bird fly in front of us to our left. It landed low in the scrub trees about 250 feet away, hidden from view. I told Wolf to creep the truck forward a bit until we could see her. There. Sitting about two feet off the ground on a small dead fall. A passage female Coop. No doubt about it. She was well protected from the wind. Apparently it had gotten to be too much for her after all. I got out of the truck and crouching down, looked around the front of the truck to make sure I could still see her. There she was, calm and relaxed, seemingly oblivious to our presence. There was a barbed-wire fence on the right side of the road. The grass on the far side of it was cropped short, offering the only area free of cover that would allow her to see the pigeon from her low position. I moved out quickly and placed the B.C. on the other side of the fence and hurried back to the truck. Then we backed up some more. And we waited.
It took about three minutes. She streaked out of the cover, crossing in front of us, and hit the B.C. She danced on it a bit and then it was clear she was noosed. We powered the truck within running range, I jumped out and ran to her. She was caught by one foot and baiting hard. I reached under the lowest wire of the fence, trying to grab the one needle-filled foot that wasn't caught. She was damned fast. And damned good at trying to get away while trying to foot me at the same time. Not wanting to risk her escape I resigned myself.....and gave her my hand. She took it with gusto. In the words of Happy Gilmore, Oohh that hurt a little but it felt good! I was then able to quickly secure both of her feet and get her back to the truck. With a little help I was able to pull out the needles and release her from the nooses. Then we headed back to town.
I have to admit that when we embarked on this trip the thought of trapping a Coop was in the back of my mind. I even brought some Coop-sized hoods just in case. So we were good in that regard. But I didn't have a perch. We put equipment on the bird, jesses and a tail clip. We built a tail saver out of X-ray film and put it on. O.K so I was more prepared than I let on, but I wasn't counting on a Coop. I swear.
Back at the hotel I made two holes in the bottom of the litter box, one near each end. I flipped the litter box upside down, bent the hose in a C shape, and put one end in each hole, shoving the ends all the way to the floor. It served the purpose quite well. I even used this perch for a few days after I returned home.
From the beginning this bird demonstrated she had a great disposition. She sat on the fist calmly while hooded, with erect posture. I did a little basic manning that night. She was relatively bonkers with the hood off. She bated a fair amount of course but easily regained the fist. I hooded her a few times then put her away.