February 15, 2018: Being a Mystery Bird in Ottawa;
Area authority identifies Hintonburg hawk.
By T Thibeault.
Early February saw several reports of an unfamiliar and unidentified hawk in at least two area neighbourhoods. Resident Paulette Dozois, started the ball rolling in a note to Newswest, “Two of my colleagues saw hawks in their yards here in Hintonburg and in Little Italy.”
From there, word travelled and the mystery deepened until photos were offered up to help with the identification, and Paulette Dozois “flipped the question to Robert Alvo – local birder and bird author…”
The hawk was first spotted in late January or early February in the neighbourhood of Gladstone and Breezehill Avenue North. At least one other report placed the hawk in Little Italy around the same time.
Andrew Horrall noted that it had been coming to a tree at the end of their garden on Breezehill North regularly over the past couple of weeks, “Sometimes to eat its prey. Other times alone” After mentioning the sighting on the Bayswater/Breezehill email list, he learned that the bird had visited several other neighbourhood gardens as well.
A few photos have since turned up, and offered definite evidence to the identity of the Hintonburg Hawk. Asked to share his considerable expertise, biologist and conservationist author Robert Alvo looked at the images and solved the mystery with the following observation:
“The bird in question is a Cooper’s Hawk. There have been a number of sightings in Ottawa this year, though none have been documented on eBird yet. It is observed in Ottawa every year. It is known to nest in at least a few places in Ottawa, but I don’t know about Hintonburg. It won’t start nesting until March or April.”
Alvo’s recently launched book, “Being A Bird in North America – North of Mexico” devotes several pages to Cooper’s Hawk and others in its family. The book is an up-to-date account of over 200 bird species, including ranges throughout the year, Conservation Status information, and individual species photos as well as the original artwork of 15 cartoonists and illustrators.
The information provided in “Being a Bird in North America” includes a detailed description of the hawk in the photograph, and some pointers that allow a positive identification. “Cooper’s Hawk has a long tail as do other accipiters (compared to Buteos like the Broad-winged Hawk, and has rufous barring across the chest. Compared to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk, it has a pale nape and a rounded tip of the tail compared to the Sharpie’s squared off tail.” Compare these points to Bruce Jackson’s photo above and you will agree that it is indeed a Cooper’s Hawk that stalks the ‘hood.
The Cooper’s Hawk sighted in Hintonburg has a range the stretches from Mexico, across the United States and into southern Canada. Ottawa seems to be just on the northern edge of its range. Of particular interest in Alvo’s book are world maps for the various species showing not only their range in North America, but also around the globe. We don’t often think that “our” birds might be quite common in other parts of the planet, but there they are.
And sometimes they are in danger. Alvo’s book further documents the Conservation Status of birds in Canada, USA, Mexico and globally. Categories such as Secure, Vulnerable, Imperiled, Critically Imperilled and even Presumed Extirpated, indicate that the light-hearted approach in “Being a Bird In North America” actually offsets the much darker shadow of the effects of environmental degradation and their threats to humankind’s collective future.
A casual look at the figures is a reminder of the fragility and vulnerability of bird populations worldwide, and of the threats and stresses a human population places on every creature interlocked in the bonds of biodiversity.
This meticulously researched book promises to be only the first of several in a “series of books describing the Earth’s elements of biodiversity.” For its vast educational value and light-hearted introduction to serious ecological thinking, follow-up volumes will make a welcome addition to any library.
In a series of emails, related to the Hintonburg Mystery Bird, Robert Alvo mentioned other sources of information including the website, http://AllAboutBirds.org – another resource for those seeking to positively identify a winter visitor or two.
Another site brought up by Alvo is ebird.org , the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This, “the world’s largest birding community”, offers a variety of advantages to persons interested in finding and identifying birds from around the world.
With a good book, and the resources of the Internet at hand, visiting mystery birds won’t be able to guard their mystery for long.
Photo Caption: Neighbours on both sides of the O-Train corridor reported recent unusual sightings of an apparently urban hawk. Robert Alvo, author of “Being a Bird in North America”, identified the bird and provided additional information and expertise. Photo by Bruce Jackson.