Kee Kee Mystery

“Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!”  The birdcalls came in through the open windows of my office, an evenly-spaced series of five, followed by a pause, then the same five calls again.

Source of Sound

Are You My Mother?

Jim was heading outside to bring some apple core to the guinea pigs.  I stopped him.  “Listen!  I’m not sure what that is, but it reminds me a little of when we had the mother quail in the yard, calling to the chicks.  It’s not quite right, though…”

Jim stood inside the door of the sunporch, trying to narrow down the location.  “It’s in the southeast corner.  I don’t think it’s a quail.  It’s from up in the tree.”

I moved to join him.  “Quail do go up in trees, but this doesn’t sound right.  Let’s go out quietly.  Maybe we can see what it is.”

We did so, shutting the door very slowly, so it only clicked into place.  The “Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!” started up again, but from the cadence, I didn’t think the bird had noticed us.  Moving carefully, we came to where we could look up into the tree branches.  Almost immediately, I spotted the source of the calls.

“It’s a hawk!  A young one, I’d guess.  I think it’s lost.”

Jim nodded.  “It does look young.  Smaller. Not as bulky as the hawks we usually see.”

The young hawk heard us talking but, rather than being afraid, he (courtesy pronoun, I have no idea what the young hawk’s sex was) seemed interested.  He sidled up and down the branch, repeating his call.  I spoke to him reassuringly, and he moved closer.  For a moment, I wondered if the young hawk might have been in training with a falconer and would mistake us for his handler.  That would have been interesting, since neither Jim nor I were wearing anything that would have protected us from even a young hawk’s talons.

Once young “Kee Kee” had decided we weren’t his mother, he went back to calling, periodically stopping to listen when any new sound broke the neighborhood’s relative quiet.  He was very excited by the mail truck, calling repeatedly as it rumbled along, its progress punctuated by an occasional squeak as a mail box was opened.

Eventually, Jim moved quietly back inside to get his camera.  While I waited for him, I got a good look at the young hawk’s feet.  There were no signs he was familiar with humans at all, no bands or jesses, so I guessed Kee Kee was just reassured by any company, even if that company was as peculiar as a pair of humans.

Jim had just finished clicking off a series of pictures when I heard the new call, so faint I thought I imagined it at first.  Then I heard it again, the classic, high, piercing call of a soaring hawk.

Young Kee Kee heard it, too.  All at once, he resumed calling with less of a pause between intervals.  Then, without warning, he swept off the branch and glided east, vanishing into the branches of one of the taller trees in our tree-challenged neighborhood.  A few moments later, two matching silhouettes, one slightly smaller than the other, dropped from the tree and soared north.

I heard one more high, shrill call, but no more of the plaintive youngling cry.  Kee Kee was back where he belonged.

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10 Responses to “Kee Kee Mystery”

  1. Dawn Says:

    That is a gorgeous bird!! Last fall we had a peregrine falcon perched outside of one of the offices where I work downtown for a couple of days.. We are on the 18th floor That was so amazing.

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    Young Cooper’s Hawk. They’re fun. A couple of months ago I had a Cooper’s Hawk slap me upside the back of my head with its wing. We’d been playing “tag” down a trail through some very tall brush (I’d walk up, he’d fly a short ways), and I’d walked past him without seeing him. He flew over my head and swatted me with his wing as he flew past, then let me get within about 10 feet before he finally flew off. I think the Indians consider that counting coup or something (as do cats).

    I’ve been walking in the same area for about six years, and apparently now I’m considered one of the harmless locals.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      That’s a great story…

      Hard to say precisely which type of hawk this was, since the young ones looks so much alike and we couldn’t get clear tail details, but Coopers is definitely one of the possibilities.

    • chadmerkley Says:

      Jane, would it be possible for you to upload and share a larger image? Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks have very different face shapes (size of the eyes relative to head, especially). Based on what I see, I’d call it a Cooper’s.

      I’ve got a resident pair of Coops in my neighborhood in SE Washington state. One of them likes to come perch on my deck railing right outside my window where I see her(?) from my desk. They like stalking my bird feeders. I haven’t seen any young ones this year, though.

      Fun fact about hawks in this genus: When they hatch, their eyes are pale yellow, but over the course of about four years they turn vivid red. It makes an easy way to estimate the age of the bird after it loses it’s juvenile plumage.

      • Jane Lindskold Says:

        I can see when Jim’s home. He’s the camera guy.

        However, he showed the image to a faunal specialist at his office and she agreed with you and heteromeles that our visitor was a Cooper’s Hawk.

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    One critical thing is behavior. Sharp-shinned hawks are pretty spooked by being around humans. Cooper’s hawks are a lot more comfortable around humans. To get a sharpie in your back yard, you’ve got to be in a semi-wild area at least. I’ve seen Cooper’s hawks hunting pigeons in downtown Madison, WI. They’re a lot less worried by the presence of humans.

    Besides, I did look it up in my bird book before I named it…

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Interesting about that comfort level… Learned or otherwise? We’re definitely suburban, although we have a lot of open areas near us so, as the hawk flies, we’re semi-wild.

  4. Paul Says:

    I like a story like this with a happy ending!

  5. Debby Says:

    We had a family of Cooper’s Hawks nest in a tree on our block (Kansas City, Missouri) in a residential block. One very hot day, when the houseowner was watering his lawn, the hawks (Mom, Dad and three babies) were lined up under the sprinkler.

    I volunteer at a nature center where we keep lots of feeders filled with seed, fruit and suet. The Cooper’s Hawks have learned to stampede the birds against the windows — lunch. We have all sorts of decals on the windows, but the birds still fly into them.

    Good luck with seeing them again. Reunions are wonderful.

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