Saturday, December 12, 2020

December 12 - Inwood Hill Park: Cooper's Hawk

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk has been seen fairly regularly around the north end of Inwood Hill Park recently. Today it was perched cooperatively in a small tree on the edge of the large bay at the north end of the soccer field. 

Cooper's Hawk - December 12, 2020 - Inwood Hill Park

The recent movement to do away with bird names that commemorate people I think is quite silly. I think it is far more interesting to find out who these people were. There are many books that provide just this sort of historical information. The classic one for North American birds is Audubon to Xantus: The Lives of Those Commemorated in North American Bird Names by Barbara and Richard Mearns (1992, Academic Press). This book is out of print now, but just published this year is Bird is the Word: An Historical Perspective on the Names of North American Birds by Gary H. Meiter (2020, McDonald & Woodward Publishing). Much of the following is derived from these two references.

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) was described and named by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1828. (Bonaparte was a 19th Century ornithologist and naturalist for whom Bonaparte's Gull is named. He is a nephew of Napolean, deserves a post of his own.) Bonaparte named the hawk for William Cooper (c. 1798 - 1864). Cooper was a wealthy New Yorker and naturalist with an interest not just in birds but also many other branches of natural history. He was a founder and officer of the Lyceum of Natural History (today's New York Academy of Sciences). Cooper edited two of the volumes of Bonaparte's American Ornithology after Bonaparte returned to Europe. Cooper had also supplied to Bonaparte information on at least one specimen of the hawk that would bear his name that he had collected on Long Island. 

William Cooper has several other connections to North American Birds. In 1825 published the first scientific account of the Evening Grosbeak based on specimens from near Lake Superior in Michigan. The scientific name of Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), named by Thomas Nuttall in 1831 also honors Cooper. Another famous bird named for Cooper was a shorebird collected by him on Long Island on May 24, 1833. Twenty-five years after Cooper collected it Spencer Baird named it Cooper's Sandpiper (Calidris cooperi). The specimen still exists in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. For over 150 years it was the only known specimen of the "species" and was argued about by generations of ornithologists. In 1981 a similar bird was collected in Australia and named as a new species, Cox's Sandpiper. Both birds are now believed to be hybrid individuals resulting from the interbreeding of Pectoral and Curlew Sandpipers. 

The Cooper Ornithological Club is named for James Graham Cooper (1830-1902), William Cooper's eldest son and a renowned ornithologist in his own right who did extensive studies of West Coast North American birds.

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