Gary Olson of Grand Forks sent me a photo he took last week of a raptor in his backyard.
The bird had bands on its legs, and he wondered if it could be one of the peregrine falcons that have been making news around town again this spring. Roosevelt and Terminator are back, and they hatched three chicks on the UND water tower that were banded last week.
Not being an expert on birds — especially raptors — I forwarded the photo to Grand Forks birding expert Dave Lambeth and Heidi Hughes, director of the Audubon Center of the Red River Valley near Warren, Minn.
Lambeth and Hughes both confirmed the bird Olson photographed was not a peregrine, but instead was a Cooper’s hawk. Tim Driscoll, director of the Urban Raptor Research Project, has banded several Cooper’s hawks around Grand Forks as part of a study on the birds.
Lambeth said people often mistake Cooper’s hawks for peregrines. They’re similar in size, for one thing, and with recent news reports of the peregrine chicks being banded, falcons are on people’s minds.
Despite the similarities, peregrines and Cooper’s hawks are easily distinguished, Lambeth said.
“A peregrine would have a helmeted look to its head, and its wings would reach much farther along the tail,” Lambeth said in an email. “Cooper’s show up on decks and in backyards frequently (including my own) and people knowing about peregrines think they may be seeing one of those. Understandable! But peregrines are aerial hunters of wide-open spaces, and a backyard would be much too confining for them.”
After hearing from Lambeth, I called Driscoll and told him about the Cooper’s hawk Olson had photographed. He was very interested to hear about the sighting and the photograph, because it was a Cooper’s hawk he’d lost track of during his research.
In a follow-up email, Olson said Driscoll paid him a visit and showed him the nesting sites of Cooper’s hawks around town.
So, even though the bird Olson spotted wasn’t a peregrine, it still had a pretty cool story behind it.