It was a sweet morning scene: parent-child pairs of crows foraging on the freshly dewed ballfield. The youngsters, even two whole months after fledging, were following their parents, pleading with their baby voices to please be fed.
Suddenly the crow voices changed to loud squawks, and I turned to see a young Cooper’s Hawk fluttering among the crows. The Coop flew back to a nearby tree, and the young and grownup crows went back to feeding. A few minutes later, squawk! as the Coop dove again towards a young crow, talons extended. The target flapped out of reach and again the Coop retreated.
It was a young hawk, unbanded, perhaps one from the nest I was following this spring and summer.
To my eye, crows look just as big as Cooper’s Hawks, and they’re remarkably intelligent and feisty to boot, so I was pretty surprised to see this hawk continue to try to pounce on them. But the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that Coops actually prefer medium over small birds; maybe the potential nourishment available from small birds isn’t worth the trouble?
A squirrel was foraging nearby, but since I’d heard that Coops feed almost entirely on birds, so at least here was one critter I didn’t have to worry about.
A flurry of brown wings at ground level, and I held my breath.
In a couple of moments I could see the squirrel nonchalantly poking at the ground a couple of feet away from the hawk, apparently not only unscathed but barely bothered by the Coop’s attack. After trying once more, the hawk gave up and returned to crow hunting. The parent crows finally got tired of her harassment and began to pursue her, and finally she left without catching any breakfast.
(You can see more photos of the Coop and crows on my Flickr site.)
Was this young bird particularly hungry, going after the difficult prey of crows and squirrel in desperation? Is there enough nourishment in this urban place to sustain fledglings?
Lincoln Park comprises 135 acres of mixed forest and meadows, along with a mile of shoreline. It’s apparently enough habitat to provide steady support to the nesting Cooper’s Hawk pair, along with a pair each of nesting Barred Owls and Bald Eagles, and millions of other creatures that fly and flitter and forage here.
But this urban green space also provides nourishment to the thousands of humans in its vicinity. Human nestlings and fledglings, as well as the adults of the species, need convenient green areas—parks, playgrounds, greenbelts—for play and peace. We’re nourished by natural spaces in ways that are critical not only to our physical health, but our psychological health as well. If we’re going to sustain ourselves psychologically, particularly in urban settings, we need nearby nature.
My city’s Parks and Recreation department has created a “gap map” of open spaces throughout the city, in which neighborhoods are characterized by how close they are to a public open space, and which areas are in need of increased access to green spaces:
Proximity of urban natural areas is an environmental justice issue. One of my students conducted an important research project assessing the distribution of playgrounds among neighborhoods of different income levels in my city, and found that the average density of parks in the highest-income areas was more than triple the average number in the lowest-income areas.
People struggling financially may need local natural places even more than those who are more comfortable. Yes, my city is between three of our country’s most glorious national parks—
—but getting to those requires a significant effort in time and transportation, commodities not plentiful to everyone, humans or other. We need everyday parks for everyday nourishment.
If you live in Seattle, how close is the nearest green space beyond your yard? Does it provide enough nature to nourish your human and nonhuman neighbors? If you live elsewhere, how good a job does your city do at providing these places that are critical for both humans and the more-than-human world?