Coopers Hawk

Warning: The following images are slightly graphic, if you feel some nature photos are upsetting then you may want to skip this post.

So last weekend my wife and I were cleaning the house and doing our usual routine when all of a sudden she gasped and told me to look out the back window. She said a giant bird had grabbed a Cardinal and was de-feathering it in the backyard. We've had some large hawks and animals in the back from time to time, but whenever I open the door they always take off so I wasn't optimistic. However I grabbed my camera and eased my way outside still wearing my bathrobe.

As I stepped out on the back stoop the Coopers Hawk was on the back fence madly tearing feathers out of the poor Cardinal and thankfully didn't seem to mind me at all. I snapped a few photos thinking that is all I would get.

Coopers Hawk
A Coopers Hawk sitting on my backyard fence after grabbing a Northern Cardinal

I slowly made my way across the yard when suddenly it hopped off the fence and down into the neighbors backyard. Thankfully the side fence is nothing more than open wire, so I kept inching my way forwards. I was eventually crouching against the fence about 10 feet away. It seems the hawk was more hungry than worried about me so it didn't mind my shutter clicking away.

Coopers Hawk
A Coopers Hawk picking at the remains of a Northern Cardinal

I stayed there crouched over the fence freezing since I only had the chance to throw my robe on, but I didn't want to go back in. Every so often it would look up at me to make sure I wasn't a threat, and then go back to tearing apart the poor Cardinal.

Coopers Hawk
A Coopers Hawk staring at the camera as it de-feathers the remains of a Northern Cardinal

As it kept eating I was wondering how much more it could pick apart and what would be left, I had never seen anything like this before. Suddenly I saw what I thought was a foot just before it gobbled it down. I was shocked, I didn't think it would eat absolutely everything, feet and all. Sure enough a few seconds later I got a better look as it grabbed the second leg and started to pick it up with its beak. I started hammering the shutter hoping to catch it as it went down. After it picked apart the rest and took off I headed back inside not sure of what I got. Cycling through the photos I almost dropped the camera when I saw this next shot.

Coopers Hawk
A Coopers Hawk gulping down the final remains of a Northern Cardinal

I had managed to get the second leg as it was sticking straight out of the hawk's beak. It has to be one of the more startling nature images I have captured. Every time I see it, it reminds me of the Xenomorphs from Alien (the 1979 movie with Sigourney Weaver).

As luck would have it 500px was running a 'Just Wild' photo quest looking for submissions showing 'the innate behavior of animals in their natural habitat'. The prize was $500 and a portfolio review by the guest judge, world renowned nature photographer Roy Mangersnes. From past experience I know these contests are usually loaded with photos from people lucky enough to travel to Africa or Antarctica, so a photo from my backyard was up against some stiff competition, but I gave it a chance anyway.

I've also submitted it to a few other places so we'll see if it gets any attention.

Update: While I didn't win the contest I was pleasantly surprised when 500px added my photo to the top 100 gallery from the quest. You can see my photo along with the other amazing finalists here.

500px - Top 100 photos
The hero image for the Just Wild photo quest
Not bad company to be in
An image gallery of the finalists for the Just Wild photo quest