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BIRDING: Cooper's hawk a sight for a sore eye

'The energy of the hawk was not only fortifying; it was inspirational,' says columnist who locked eyes with hawk while suffering eye ailment

I have been absent from the writing world the past month or so due to a rather weird thing called iritis.

It is inflammation of the iris, causing a very sore, light-sensitive eye, and blurred vision. It has not been fun. I expect a clever word play may be possible with a writer having iritis, but at the moment, it escapes me.

I am easing back into using screens and found a recent deck visit from a Cooper’s hawk to be encouraging. I happened to walk into the kitchen a week or so ago, and saw it sitting on the deck railing. I was able to snap a few pics through the window as it looked at me with both eyes. I used one.

The energy of the hawk was not only fortifying; it was inspirational. Under the circumstances, it had me thinking about its amazing eyesight and that of other raptors.

I wasn’t able to find anything specific to the eyesight of a Cooper’s hawk, but only hawks in general. I did learn the iris of a Cooper’s hawk changes colour through its life. It starts off as blue, and progresses through grey, yellow, orange and sometimes red.

Although my iris had a certain trick of its own in swelling, it hasn’t gone through any colour changes since I was an infant.

In looking for information, I came across this from “The term ‘hawk-eyed’ accurately describes many birds. For example, both raptors that must see prey at great distances and seed eaters that must pick tiny objects off the ground have eyes designed for high ‘visual acuity’ — the capacity to make fine discriminations. There is, in fact, evidence that hawks can distinguish their prey at something like two or three times the distance that a human being can detect the same creature. Interestingly, even with such visual acuity, Cooper’s hawks are known to hunt quail by their calls.”

It was, unfortunately, seed eaters that attracted the Cooper’s hawk to my deck. I was pleased it came, and I was pleased it flew away with empty talons.

Hawks and other birds have eyes that are larger in proportion to their bodies compared to humans. The Stanford site says, “But more than size alone appears to account for the astonishing performance of the eyes of hawks. Evolution has arranged the structure of their eyes so that each eye functions very much like a telescope.”

It is likely some birds are better at perceiving colour than we are. There is also evidence some, including hawks, may see ultraviolet light. says small mammals such as mice and voles mark their trails with urine. Urine is a substance that reflects ultraviolet light. “Because of this, some raptors are able to see the ultraviolet urine trail of their prey, helping them to find a food source. Studies have shown that American kestrels and rough-legged hawks are very adept at this.”

The site adds this does not necessarily mean all raptors can see ultraviolet light. 

In any case, a hawk’s eyesight is an enviable thing.

The Cooper’s hawk who came to visit obviously saw me, as I was only about eight feet away, and it looked directly at me. It instilled strength and encouragement. I am grateful.

I share experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every couple of weeks. Until next time, keep your eye to the sky, and look for birds that may come by.

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, a storyteller, and a playwright. She blogs on her website,