An educational experience, teaching awareness and respect for wildlife using live, native birds of prey

Sky Hunters Environmental Education
Serving Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

summer sun


Summer 2008 Newsletter

Summertime magical wishes from Sky Hunters. We provide a helpful, informative electronic newsletter on a quarterly basis. Please let us know if you would rather not received this newsletter by sending an email to:



Sky Hunters Environmental Education was founded to teach respect and awareness of wildlife and habitats in California, using live birds of prey to emphasize our message. We take great pride in providing small group presentations geared toward enlightenment, enrichment, and empowerment. Experience has shown us that the personal introduction to these wild creatures will capture your imagination, and hopefully your heart, and our conservation message will be delivered with wildlife and wild places in mind.

Sparky2It is with great sadness that I report Sky Hunters American kestrel, the cornerstone of our educational program, is missing. He escaped from his enclosure on Monday, June 30th, and has been seen moving around south Los Altos and Mountain View. The more eyes out looking for him the more likely we can recover him.

If you see him, please call Karen at: 650-743-4219 as soon as possible.

Photo by Frank Kole from West Wind Barn Earth Day event in April


Featured Raptor

Cooper's hawk, Accipiter cooperii


Have you been wondering just who that hawk is that buzzes through your yard, startling all the songbirds at your feeder, and is gone again before you get a good look at him? During the summer, you can most likely count on it being a Cooper’s hawk.

The Cooper's hawk, Accipiter cooperii, belongs to a family of hawks known as Accipiters. California is home to three species of accipiter, with the Cooper’s hawk in the middle as far as size - about as large as a crow, long and slim. The Sharp-shinned hawk is our smallest member of the family, and the Northern goshawk the largest. All three accipiters are similar in proportions and not always easy to tell apart. These hawks prey mostly on small to medium-sized birds using their short, rounded wings and long rudder-like tails to maneuver through cover and in wooded areas as they hunt birds on the wing. Cooper's hawks have adapted to urban and suburban environments, taking advantage of the man-made food source, our backyard bird feeders.

The Cooper’s hawk measures 14-19 inches in length from bill to tail (males 14-16 inches, females 16-19 inches) with a wingspan of 28-45 inches (2.33 to 3.75 feet) from wing tip to wing tip. Weights range from 8 to 21 oz. (227 to 600 grams). The sexes are similar with the female being larger, as in most raptor species. The weight range does not overlap between males and females. Their very long tail is rounded at the tip and the under tail coverts (feathers) are long, fluffy and usually white, standing out while they are perched or flying. They often fly with quick wing beats and a short glide, but also soar. Their large angular head projects beyond the wings when soaring.

With stealth being the trademark of the Cooper’s hawk it usually approaches silently, but during breeding season can be very vocal in its presence. Loud “cak-cak-cak-cak” calls can be heard if the Cooper’s feel someone is too close to its nest or young.  

Adults differ from the juvenile plumage with a red eye, dark black cap and blue-gray back and upper wings. The light breast, belly and under-wing coverts have fine, thin reddish barring. One of the most distinctive features of the accipiters is the long white under-tail coverts. Tail is blue-gray above and pale below, barred with black bands. Flight feathers are blue-gray above and pale below, with dark bars.


Photo by Tom Grey:


The immature plumaged bird has a yellow eye and brown head with an indistinct pale supercilium or eyebrow stripe, where the adult is blue-gray the immature is brown on the cap, nape, back and upper wings. White underparts are marked by thin black streaks, concentrated on chest. The tail is brown above and pale below, barred with dark bands anda white terminal band.



















Photo by Tom Grey:  


Usually a dense evergreen and deciduous forest dweller throughout Canada and the continental United States, Cooper’s hawks have moved into neighborhoods and nest in large leafy trees. They build a broad, flat stick nest near the tree trunk. Females lay 3-6 eggs that are incubated for 30-34 days. Young will fledge or leave the nest at about 4-5 weeks of age. The scientific name, Accipiter cooperii, comes from the Latin word accipere, meaning bird of prey and from the American zoologist William Cooper, for which the bird is named. Nicknames for this hawk include Chicken Hawk, Hen Hawk and Swift Hawk. While the Cooper’s hawk’s main diet is small to medium sized birds, it will also prey upon small mammals. Hunting by stealth, this versatile predator will pursue prey on foot. The Cooper’s hawk can eat the equivalent of 12% of its body weight per day. As these hawks feed mainly on other birds, they are valuable indicators of pesticide levels and the overall health of their environment. Watch for the Cooper’s hawk in your neighborhood and remember your food chain lessons.

“There Was An Owl”

There was an owl who lived in an oak.

The more he heard, the less he spoke;

the less he spoke, the more he heard- We all should be like that wise old bird.

Hunters of the Sky – An introduction to Raptor Biology

Have you ever tried to explain to others what makes a raptor different from other birds? This introduction to the basic biology of birds of prey gives an overview of how these birds fit into our environment (backyards and neighborhoods) and why they are important to us.

After an introduction of basic definitions such as nocturnal and diurnal, we touch on the structural characteristics that identify a raptor as a bird of prey. We make you familiar with how these birds make a living with strong feet and sharp talons for catching and carrying prey and discuss how their hearing and eyesight give them a direct advantage in finding prey.

Then we introduce our first bird, a diurnal, or daytime, hunter. We look at the individual bird, identify as to species, then go over common, scientific and nicknames while focusing on the physical description. We discuss characteristics such as the crop and its advantage for feast and famine predators. Time is spent discussing nesting requirements, habitat use, migration and types of prey the individual would need to survive. This focus helps us look at the birds as individual beings having the same basic needs as we do: food, water, shelter and a safe place to raise young.

There is always time for questions, and then we introduce the second bird, a nocturnal, or nighttime, hunter. Focusing on the eyes, ears and feathers for silent flight in the owls we go over the individual characteristics in detail. An interesting guessing game is played as to how much the bird weighs - remember, ‘light as a feather’. We look at adaptations that allow the birds to stay in the same habitat year round, in most species, giving them an advantage of a long period to successfully raise their young.

To round the program out we come back to habitat needs for the birds and look at ways we can help them live happy lives. We emphasize the themes “recycle, reuse, replant” as well as general awareness and explain how these strategies improve our lives.

Most children know that we need to recycle, but they don’t put the whole picture together as to the true benefit that recycling provides. For instance, the amount of paper we use versus the number of trees needed to produce paper. I always tell the story of the 4th grade class in Palo Alto that figured out that by recycling all their homework papers for only one year, they could save 4 trees from being cut down. Knowing that trees produce oxygen, food and shelter helps brings the need to recycle closer to home. The fact that the birds need trees to nest, find food and to shelter in, gives us the feeling of protection and sponsorship of wildlife.

Water use is addressed as something that each and every one of us can do daily to help our environment. Most know not to run the tap while brushing their teeth, but when kids realize that 4 gallons of water goes down the drain each time they let the tap run while brushing, it is a powerful impact. It is not just water down the drain, it is 4 gallon size containers of water. Most children today are not prepared for drought rationing that may be needed in the near future.

Just knowing that simple everyday things we do or don’t do can impact global warming and the health of our environment empowers us with ways to change and take control of our lives and making life better for our wild neighbors and us.

Recycled Craft Project – Egg Carton Caterpillar From Enchanted Learning

egg carton caterpillar


1. Cardboard egg carton

2. Scissors

3. Paint (or markers)

4. Pipe cleaners

5. Sharp pencil

6. Wiggly eyes (or buttons)

7. Glue

Activity Cut along the middle (to have one strip of 6 cups) of egg carton, Paint egg carton or decorate with markers, Use sharp pencil to poke two holes into top of the first cup, String pipe cleaners in through holes (from the inside) Use pencil to wrap ends of the pipe clearner around it to make it curly Glue on the wiggly eyes or buttons.



Daisy mat doormats for bird perches and platforms - $25 each - Sky Hunters uses 20 of these mats annually for the bird’s caging perches to ensure healthy feet and beaks.

Pea gravel and sand for cage bottoms - $7.50 per bag - 8 bags of sand and 15 bags of pea gravel are needed to keep cage-flooring health and clean.

Pet screen (fiberglass screening) - $40 per roll Keeping mosquitoes out is the best way to prevent West Nile Virus and other bird related diseases – to upgrade cage screening approximately 20 rolls are needed.

Enrichment Toys for Raptors – Palm leaf shredders $10 each. It is amazing what a knotted piece of palm leaf braided shredder can do for the bored or frustrated bird. You can see the satisfaction on their faces when they have successfully turned this toy into little pieces.

Sponsor a Raptor –Sky Hunters has an annual sponsorships to help feed, house and provide medical care for each species of birds. See . Mini-sponsorships can be a donation in any amount for a monthly or quarterly sponsorship instead of the full annual sponsorship. For example, the Peregrine Falcon annual sponsorship is $200, a quarterly sponsorship would be $25. Food and transportation costs are rising and any donations in this area will help keep our presentation fees reasonable.  



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