Cecily Gill COLUMN
At the Gardens
By CECILY GILL
Cooper’s hawks at Botanical Gardens send hearts soaring
For anyone who lives near the Botanical Gardens, the loud “CACK CACK CACK” can be heard in the morning – the calls of the Cooper’s hawks. To our delight the male and female seem to be planning to stay another year. Here is their story.
Because the Gardens are midtown, staff is always excited by new bird sightings. Last year the noisy “CACKs” were heard for the first time. High up in an Aleppo pine tree sat a hawk with reddish markings on his chest. Later we realized there were two birds and we set about figuring out which was which. The smaller hawk turned out to be the male.
Staff and visitors observed the hawks daily. They could easily be found by listening for the frantic, scolding mockingbirds who harassed the hawks as best they could (usually to no avail). Looking up toward the screaming mockingbirds, the hawks could be seen in very high branches of Aleppos.
Cooper’s hawks are bird hawks. They eat small birds. That’s why the mockingbirds have such fits. Observing our hawks, we could often see them finishing off a kill – perhaps a dove – feathers lilting to the ground. In the spring, the male would present the female with captured prey. There is much to eat in a Botanical Gardens that provides such a protected lush place to live. It is no wonder a predator species found us attractive.
But I’m jumping ahead. To our wonder, the pair begin building a nest. They chose a spot high up in a eucalyptus tree, but they gathered their nest materials from the Aleppo pines. With bunches of green needles and twigs, they made a wide cup-shaped nest. Luckily for us, we could see it easily with binoculars.
Daily we watched. We sure couldn’t see if eggs were laid 70 feet up, but the hawks behaved as though there were and sure enough, we finally saw two downy white heads poking up above the nest. They honestly looked like two fuzzy balls with black beads for eyes.
But very quickly, they began to change in color, taking on the brown stripes of juvenile Cooper’s Hawks. Up they stood on the edge of nest. We on the staff were petrified that they might fall – a doom that could surely happen. But they continued to show off and eventually graduated to perching on nearby branches, hopping back to the safety of the nest as needed.
When the youngsters fledged, they perched here and there around the Gardens, sometimes flying right over your head, laughing I am sure at our discomfiture. In fact, they were so friendly that we were quickly advised to shoo them away so they would be better able to adapt to the perhaps less friendly world outside the Gardens.
So that was last spring. Now, the adults are back. The hawks favor the top of the Cactus Garden Fountain, early and late, where water burbles over their toes. Will they nest again? We hope! One of the offspring, by the way, we are told by the researchers who track them, has moved on to the area around San Xavier Mission.
Cecily Gill is curator of the horticulture at Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way. She has gardened there since 1986.