Imagine you’re a young hawk who just can’t wait to launch out on her own for the first time. Your attentive mother, with help from your father, has been feeding you your whole life: bringing you breakfast in bed, then converting your bedroom to the dining room once you hopped out of the nest to nearby branches. When she lands on the nest with food, you and your siblings run chattering to the dinner table.
But now you’d rather not wait for mother’s home delivery service. You’d sure like to be able to eat when you’re hungry rather than waiting for her! But how on earth do you figure out how to nab those goodies–small birds–yourself? You have to practice: practice flying to the prey, practice nabbing it, and practice taking it back up to somewhere you can eat it in peace.
So now that you’re in hawk-mind, imagine: what could you possibly find in the forest to use as a small-bird-like toy to practice with?
A pine cone, of course!
Just about the right size for a young bird’s talons – check. Placid and therefore easy to nab – check. Grippable in flight – check.
Easy to land with? Not so much. Especially when you’re a little wobbly on the landing part anyway, even without a carryon. Here’s the young Cooper’s Hawk trying to get her balance as she lands with her cone:
And examining her prize:
Of course, if you’re all grown up and you catch your prey in one place and decide to eat it somewhere else, you’ve got to know how to keep hold of it while pivoting on the other foot to get the best takeoff angle; here’s our young hawk practicing that difficult maneuver.
First, she rises up from the branch:
Then she flaps, rotating on her left foot while she holds the cone in her right foot:
Then she settles briefly down while still holding the cone in her right foot.
A moment later she took off through the trees, pine cone presumably still in her talons.
Two days later I saw one of the young Coops with what sure looks like actual prey.
Practice-preying pine cones pays off…for the preyer if not the preyee.