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Raptors nest above Sunken Garden

  • Do you see what I see?
    Do you see what I see?  Female Cooper's Hawk perched by a newly built nest near the Sunken Gardens.The brownish streaks visible on her chest and her brown back are signs of her "second year" plumage.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Raptor, oh Raptor
    Raptor, oh Raptor  A bird that was once rare,the Cooper's Hawk (female seen left), has been sited this year building a nest on a busy college campus - a sign of an improving local environment for wildlife.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Waiting on baby
    Waiting on baby  A mother Cooper's Hawk, guards her nest. These birds are believed to mate for life but do not typically reuse the exact same nest location.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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If you're passing by Washington Hall, start watching your head: A pair of Cooper's hawks is nesting in one of the beech trees along the Sunken Garden at William & Mary.

"This is amazing," ornithologist Dan Cristol said. "Fifteen years ago, Cooper's hawks didn't even nest around here, let alone on campus right over a pathway."

Cooper's hawks are accipiters, he explained, a smaller, leaner and more agile bird than buteos—the red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks more commonly seen around campus.

"They are amazing fliers, extremely acrobatic," Cristol said. "I saw one fly right through the branches of a discarded Christmas tree once."

He said the male hawk has been actively adding sticks to the nest, which will be invisible in a few weeks once the beech tree leafs out. About then, the parents will become quite protective of their chicks.

"If you're out in front there, you should really watch out," he said. "Those parents tend to get aggressive when their nestlings are about to leave the nest. Until then, you probably won't know they're there."

The Cooper's hawks aren't the only raptors around the Sunken Garden. Last year, Cristol was called out to see a young kestrel just out of its nest its parents constructed on Tyler Hall. The red-tailed and the red-shouldered hawks keep the squirrel population somewhat in check, he said. Sharp-eyed spotters can often see ospreys and even bald eagles flying above Williamsburg, too.