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Watching Our Researchers Like a Hawk

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You know that poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Allan Poe?  The one where a guy holes himself up in a room surrounded by books, only to be pestered by a bird looking over his shoulder?  Yeah, that one.

Well, a few of our researchers might have been getting a similar feeling lately, but on a much grander scale.

What one birder at the Library billed (no pun intended) as a Cooper’s Hawk–crowd-source a correction if I’m wrong–somehow recently got into the Library’s majestic Main Reading Room, and has been winging about ever since.  It was first noticed by a patron looking dome-ward yesterday afternoon.  I’ll include a few pictures here, taken by our very able Abby Brack.

Naturally, this event has prompted many questions, the most obvious of which being: How on Earth did a Cooper’s Hawk get into the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress?!  I can’t answer that.  But I can provide a few Q’s followed by a few A’s.

I always feel like ... some birdie's watching meeee! (Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress, and the linked photo is pretty big)

How do you know it’s a Cooper’s Hawk?

We don’t know for sure.  But a Library staffer who by avocation is a birder checked an app she keeps on her iPhone and determined that to be the likely breed.

Have you tried to get it down?

The same Library staffer used the same iPhone app to play an audio clip of the call of a Cooper’s Hawk in order to lure it down, but to no avail.

Surely you can’t be serious.  Have you really tried to get it down?

I am serious.  And don’t call me Shirley.  (Shout-out to the 2010 National Film Registry!)

What other steps are you taking?

You mean aside from several very fast steps and hitting the deck if it dive-bombs us?  We immediately took steps to analyze a safe approach to handle the situation with minimum disruption to patrons.  We are calling in experts from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, a division of the Department of the Interior, to continue the efforts to safely return it to the outdoors.  It is possible that the bird is an endangered species.

An unidentified cherub (pictured at left) tries to smash the bird with a book, while the figure of Human Understanding (center) uses her veil like a net to snag it. (Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress. Mural by Edwin Blashfield, 1848--1936.)

Now that you mention it, has it dive-bombed anyone?

That was purely hypothetical.  It seems to be an agreeable enough bird.  It’s not ruffling our patrons’ feathers, and they aren’t bothering it either.  To them, the whole situation is like water off a duck’s back.

OK, you knew I was going to ask this, but how the heck do you think it got in?

We’re not sure, but the working theory is that there was an open or possibly a broken window high in the building.  We monitor those kinds of things closely, but storm breakage can sometimes occur.  That might have allowed the hawk in.  Pigeons sometimes congregate on our roof areas, and hawks often find them irresistible hors d’oeuvre.

How is the bird doing?

The reading room was open until 9 p.m. yesterday, and staff checked on the bird throughout the night.  It remains in the reading room at this hour, and it appears to be in good health.

If I leave here tomorrow ... would you still remember me? (Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress)

So you’re not feeding it any mice?

No, and no bookworms either.

How much do you think the bird is worth?

Once we get it in hand, I would say it’s worth at least two in the bush.  Or at least that’s what the Geico commercial says.

Will you be releasing any other wildlife into the Main Reading Room?

Staff are contemplating that, both to keep themselves alert and on their toes, and also to prevent researchers from taking long naps.

Finally, does the hawk have a name?

“Cooper” seems pretty predictable and banal, right?  Maybe Fenimore?  I wonder what our readers might propose instead.

Thank you for your time, Matt.

You’re welcome, Matt.  But before I go, I’d like to thank my staff for offering up many of these jokes.  But only the bad ones.  🙂

Comments (121)

  1. What great photos! I’m pretty sure that’s a Cooper’s Hawk too. I’m looking at my Sibley Guide right now. I see a Cooper’s Hawk at Union Station most days around 7 AM (Coming to work at the LoC) and they do like pigeon for breakfast! A Cooper’s Hawk weighs about 1lb (according to Sibley) while a pigeon weighs about 9 ounces. I’ve seen a Cooper’s take a pigeon right out of the air! Amazing when you realize how close in weight they are. I hope you get this one back outside soon. Its a pity to see him cooped up like that.

  2. Oh, it’s a Cooper’s hawk. My wife’s a falconer and prefers flying them. The only other hawk that looks similar is a Sharp-shinned hawk. Sharpies are smaller and have a more square tail; the round tail in the second photo clinches the identification.

    Cooper’s hawks eat feathers, not fur. They’ve become urban birds, and a hypothesis is that bird feeders are more reliable hunting grounds than the wild forest. Actually, there’s a governmental agency with some experts…

    Playing realistic sounds from *another* Coop more likely will see you attacked this time of year. Food is scarce, and hawk and falcon species are not social.

    (There is one notable exception to being social: the North American Harris’ hawk from the Sonoran Desert. Same species in South America is not social. Also, when food is very, very plentiful, hawks and falcons can tolerate each other a little. But not in winter…)

  3. I vote for Hudson. Yes.. Hudson Hawk

  4. Never a dull moment at LoC! Thanks for the post.

  5. Just feel moved to comment and say: delightful post. I laughed. Good luck with, uh, Fenimore!

  6. That is most definatively a Coopers Hawk. We got one out of a building using a fake mouse stratigically located just outside an open door.

  7. This is just awesome!!

  8. I’m sure there are a number of hawks…and doves among the library’s members.

  9. Now the question everyone wants answered, but no one wants to ask.

    Where doth the raven poopeth?

  10. best. post. ever.

  11. I used to work at the U of M’s Raptor Center in St. Paul, MN and I’ve been part of “missions” to get raptors out buildings.

    You’ve correctly identified this bird as a Cooper’s hawk, it’s a juvenile and they have a knack for getting trapped in buildings (I once had to get one out of a batting cage).

    Do you have any falconers in your area? People who are licensed to hunt with birds of prey? They know how to trap these birds and would be a huge help. Or if you have any licensed hawk banders, they’d have the means to help you too.

    You basically need a bal chatri trap and a live mouse.

    Good luck, my readers and I are having fun reading your updates!

    Sharon (aka Birdchick)

  12. It appears you misspelled Poe’s middle name.

    See LC Control Number: n 79029745 in the authorities file.

  13. Thanks for the update on the Coopers Hawk. It made my family and I smile. 🙂

  14. Cooper’s Hawks are definitely not endangered. They are fairly common in our area, but mostly in fairly wooded areas. The photos of the bird suggests an immature (juvenile) Cooper’s.

  15. You have quite the interviewing skills, Matt! :] In my opinion, though, it seems that this bird of prey might, in fact, be a juvenile Northern Goshawk (NOGO). It’s the bigger cousin of the Cooper’s Hawk (COHA), and the largest of the class of birds known as Accipiters that we have here in North America. Their body types are specialized for crashing through and navigating dense, brushy areas and the branches of trees, chasing after dinky birdies for lunch!

    This bird in the LOC is certainly a juvenile, but deciding which species is tricky. This is also a sizable bird, considering the structural references of the features of the Library. You have posted some excellent photos for the identification, so Kudos! to the photographer. Here are my thoughts for consideration (I certainly don’t claim to be right):

    1. While the juveniles of these two species can overlap in overall size, the body of this bird is rather broad and rounded out in the middle, as it’s shown in flight, making me lean towards it being a NOGO. The wings are particularly broad in comparison to the overall size of the bird. The particular banding on the underside of the tail makes me also think of a NOGO.

    Now that I’ve opened Pandora’s Box, let others jump in and give their thoughts! The books I used for reference in making my identification were National Geographic: Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America (p. 104), and Hawks From Every Angle: How To Identify Raptors In Flight by Jerry Liguori.

    As to why the bird is in the Library, leave it to a juvenile to mistake the setting for a snack bar!

    Louie Quintana

  16. If it is really a Cooper’s Hawk I understand it isn’t interested in mice. It hunts other birds. So chasing a pigeon is a good guess as to how it ended up inside the Library. I hope you let a film crew video the removal. I’d love to see how they do it!

  17. Put out a non-tippy bowl of water please

  18. Could this Cooper’s hawk be the long lost plane hijacker D.B. Cooper? Or is that too lame?

  19. Cooper’s hawk, eh? He’s really got you over a barrel.

  20. I think D.B. would be a good name!

  21. Seems to me this Birds looking after you guys

  22. Thanks for the update, Matt! Just went over to take a look for myself. He/She is a beautiful bird! Clearly visible from the floor of the Main Reading Room even though she’s perched up in the cupola 3+ stories away — so not a small raptor, either. She’s very quite and seems not all that put off by her new, temporary surroundings.

  23. Hey guys, you are in a library– 😉 Anyone go get a Peterson’s or Sibley’s Guide to North American birds or any of the excellent bird encyclopedias ? Or to be really geeky one of the Audubon illustrated editions? see Lib of Congress Call Number area QL681 .
    Hope “Cooper” is well and back outside safely.

  24. Loved the comment that “Jeff” made about
    the hawks and the doves always hanging around the Library of Congress. Mostly true.

  25. Tie a fake pigeon on a string and swing it out the door while playing pigeon sounds. They like to pigeons where I live, or doves.

  26. DB Cooper is an excellent name (even if it does turn out to be a NOGO…) Fenimore is a wee bit stuffy – especially if she is a little girl. Please keep us posted!

  27. Given the nation’s current fiscal situation, I can only surmise that the raptor in question is a “deficit hawk!”

  28. You guys are having waaaay too much fun with this. Good on you! Wish I lived close enough to come check it out.

  29. Please fix the misspelling of Poe’s name! (See Comment #12) You’re the LOC — you have to get it right!

  30. There may be some value in allowing Fenimore to hunt mice etc. that may be in the Main reading Room.

    As a caution, if there are any poisonous baits that have been placed to remove pests, there might be a need to keep your avian visitor from feeding on these.

  31. You definitely need to get a falconer or someone who traps and bands raptors to help with this. Cooper’s hawks are generally easy to trap–especially one like this that is probably getting pretty hungry.

  32. This is quite entertaining. I like the name Speckie Hawk.

  33. I vote for Addison Hawk. “Ad” for short.

    Because he’s there for a specific and very temporary reason.

  34. Take a mouse. Put it in a cage. Fix a large net with rope to drop on to the cage. When the bird tries to get the mouse out of the cage, drop the net.

    Should be safe. Best wishes.

    Ron Frazier

  35. I too believe the bird to be a Coopers Hawk. This bird also is called a Blue Darter which just happens to be the school mascot of the high school in my town, Apopka High School Blue Darters, in Florida.

  36. Members of the Main Reading Room CALM staff have named the bird “Shirley”.

  37. I should add. Wear heavy Gloves! Put the cage on the floor. And put the BIG net close to the cage. Force him to go under the net.

    Tip of the day. Hot coco and hot tea will keep your hands and finger warm. And to keep your feet warm, put them on you boy friend or girl friend’s bare back.

  38. Great blog – humorous and informative. Best wishes to Fenimore and to all of you.

  39. I suggest naming our feathered friend “Gary” (Cooper). And thanks for the shout-out for the National Film Registry.

    Donna Ross
    Board Coordinator
    National Film Preservation Board
    Packard Campus

  40. My experience has been the USFW or local DEC don’t know how to handle these situations very well, in part due to staffing and in part due to expertise. Call a falconer or a raptor rehabber. They will know what to do. If its been there awhile it needs to eat.

  41. his name is Anderson
    Anderson Cooper

  42. Matt, it’s the sense of humor like this that drives me to seeking a job at the LoC.
    I’ve been having a rough day with school and really wondering if I made the right choice, all while dreading going to a job tonight where making jokes is seen as “unprofessional”. Reading this has really made me feel a lot better.
    Oh, and that’s a cool bird.

  43. My vote is for JES’ “Ad Hawk”. Inspired!

  44. I like Fenimore as a name, but I’m going to have to go with Studebaker (since as every schoolchild knows Studebacher Hoch was the hero of Frank “Friend of All Libraries” Zappa’s 1972 opus, “Billy the Mountain”).

  45. The exclusion method will probably work best. Open a window high up there, where you think it got in, and cover it after it gets out. It may take awhile to do this. I wouldn’t try luring it for capture.

  46. Coincidentally happened to check out the Dictionary of American Bird Names today from the NYPL. The Cooper’s was named after William C. Cooper, 1798-1864, a founder of the New York Lyceum of Natural History. This kind of hawk, an accipiter, has also done well in cities/suburbs because of bird feeders, which of course attract their prey.

  47. OPEN A WINDOW DAG NAB IT….if there’s a ledge outside where he was resting and a broken window he’ll never find it again….needs a window to be open, as they will never fly low enough to make it out the front door. Oh wait, think he’ll make it through the metal detectors?

  48. The bird is unlikely to go after a mouse. Cooper’s Hawks (and Northern Goshawks) eat birds, not rodents. I would recommend contacting the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, or 703-578-1175, for assistance. Please get help for the bird promptly; it is likely to be hungry unless sparrows or pigeons have also found their way into the building.

  49. Tell “Alice” Cooper
    Welcome to my nightmare.

  50. I love some of the Scooby Doo-esque ideas being floated for catching our feathered friend!

  51. Looking at those dark wing tips, I’d guess a juvenile Eastern Red-shouldered Hawk, looking at my Sibley guide, although it could be a Cooper’s. I hope it makes it out safely!

  52. Great story and comments. On our backyard suet feeder in Macon, GA, we have red shouldred hawks visit and feed year ’round. Bait a big cage with suet and hope Cooper will bite!

  53. It probably flew in to seek shelter from the cold. It would be inhumane not to feed it something – just long enough for the weather conditions to improve (after all, it will be Spring soon.) Then it should be captured and released, being allowed to continue earning its pigeon wages… GB

  54. Maybe The Library could hire Wile E. Coyote to trap the hawk.

  55. Bill —

    Dang. You took my suggestion.

    Studebaker Hawk…he’s really outta sight.
    Studebaker Hawk…he treats the flies all right.

    Yeah, it works.

    Great photos, too! I’ve been away from birding for a while, but when I saw the pix, I sez, “Streaky breast…rounded tail…it’s a juvenile….”

    And that’s as far as I got.

    My bookish husband (Acquisitions, The Ohio State Univ. Libraries) sent me this: I’m forwarding to some naturalist friends. Thanks for a fun story!

  56. Epic blog entry. Epic story.

  57. Gorgeous bird.

    His name should be Dale.

  58. If that was a quail, the Everly Brothers would have a field day, hence the ” don’t bird dog my quail ” song…. the first photo makes the bird seem like a NoGo with its feather pattern, what about the rings of dark color around the tail feathers, like a Cooper? The boxier wing shape seem to be a NoGo…. I’m no bird expert but I do have a comparison map of 8 different types of hawk. I picked this up at Hawk mountain sanctuary, Kempton, Pa. Loved the picks and interview, funny…

  59. This is an immature female, Cooper’s hawk. (Accipiter cooperi) They have become one of the most common raptors in urban areas. Due to the presence of their prey base, pigeons, starlings, and sparrows. Plus the bonus of food stations known also as bird feeders. (McSparrow fly-thrus). They also pursue their prey in a stealthy fashion and are often end up in buildings and warehouses. Their targeted prey seek refuge from them in buildings. So, the hawk ends up dis-oriented in the building. The best people to use for safely removing the hawk is either a falconer or a raptor rehabber. Good luck with her and keep us posted.

  60. Cooper’s hawk would be the species, not breed. The term “breed” is used when a domesticated species has multiple different sub-species, so it can be used for dogs and cats. It is a term similar to “race” when used to describe human beings. The term “species” is the appropriate one here since you are talking about identifying what type of wild animal you have discovered, not a sub-type of a domesticated animal.

  61. Definitely a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk! We photograph them every spring at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. There are resident male & female adults there and every year they treat us to a baby hawk frenzy. Last year they had 4 babies, the year before 5.

  62. Todd wants to know what the bird is reading.

    I want to know what he’s (she’s) researching (the life and work of Audubon?).

    As for bird capture, the Library has experience. Once upon a time (1990s) a federal posse armed with a large net managed (after a few hours and lots of chasing) to scoop up a family of ducks that staff was nurturing in one of the inner courtyards.

  63. That hawk has some serious legs.

  64. So glad to see the LOC staff has a great sense of humor.

  65. Check with the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. They have red-tails nesting on a ledge just outside their board room. They also have had to call on a local wildlife guy to get their hawks out of various kinds of trouble. He might be lured onto a train to DC for a caper like this.

  66. Just treat it right, or else it’ll report you to the Cooper Union.

  67. Can somebody get this message to somebody at the library! Put a pan of water on the floor, near an open path (that the bird will be able to see) for the bird to get out.

    Coopers hawks are hyper and they will get dehydrated. They will come to water (even before food!). They only know to fly up to get out. I did this a few months ago, a Coopers was in our building for 4 days. After I put a pan of water down (advice from a Falconer), the bird was out 15 minutes!

  68. My grandfather’s preferred method was to sneak up behind the hawk and sprinkle a dash of salt on his tail. He always said, after completing this task, catching the bird was easy.

    Also, assuming this is the first recorded flight in the LoC, may I suggest naming him (or her) “Kitty Hawk?” In fact, if this hawk is feasting on library mice, “Kitty” is even more appropriate.

  69. How about “Kitty” Hawk?

  70. Used an iPhone app! This is a perfect example why libraries are being increasingly viewed as a relic! Here the LOC can’t look up this information in one of their books!

  71. Thanks for the update info and good luck with capturing this raptor and releasing it back into the wilds of Washington, DC.

    “Snoopy” is my favorite name. I don’t think “Red Baron” is appropriate.


  72. Great pictures but I am concerned the hawk is hungry. I like the idea of luring him out with a fake mouse. Good luck with Fenimore and his release.

  73. I’ve worked rehabbing raptors – definitely a Cooper’s Hawk. BTW, she is gorgeous!

    They need to get some quail from a falconer – for one thing she needs to eat!

  74. Loved the article and the comments! Great laughs. I hope by now that DB Fenimore Hudson is gone by now, if not, get a falconer in there with a lure quick.

  75. So, has the bird been successfully removed? I am sure most of the respondents here would appreciate knowing the outcome (or perhaps, the “out going”) of our avian friend!

  76. If there were two of them, you could name them Post Hawk and Propter Hawk.

  77. I advise Cooper to get out of the reading room immediately. It’s a bit “stuffy” in there!

  78. even this hawk knows it’s too cold to be outside… how about the name Mary Alice Cooper? many thanks to all who are doing this in a humane manner. Abby great pics!

  79. It’s an adult Northern Goshawk not a Cooper’s. Look in your books.

  80. Absolutely delighted you’ve posted “Coop’s” story in the LOC blog. Yes, please put water out for him/her. Keep us updated!

  81. There might be symbolism involved that there may be a foe to our Nation upon us but an Angel like person or maybe Divine Intervention will rescue us. Hopefully the presence of our Nations Eagle will soon appear.

    Helena H. Ashby

  82. From time to time, I’ll have a wren fly into my house, and ultimately it flies up to my second story foyer window. Here’s how I get them out: you have to turn OFF all of the interior lights in the house; turn ON all exterior lights outside the house; make alot of noise, even throw some small objects in the direction of the bird to get them a little upset. Pretty soon the bird will start to fly around a bit and spot the lights outside and fly towards the light. This has worked numerous times for me.

  83. It’s gonna starve. Whatever happened to turning out all the lights and opening a window?

  84. If all the lights can be turned out and the trap well lit, that may attract the bird. The easiest way I have found to get trapped birds out of houses is to wait for dark and then open a door or window while shining a bright light through the opening toward the bird. Most of them will then “follow the light” right out.
    I hope this Hawkley finds his way home. I second the suggestions for non-tippy water source and to call the wild bird rehabbers. Those wonderful people know their stuff and also are caring. Thanks LOC peoples, for helping this beauty.

  85. You made the paper yesterday (Express) – What’s the latest? Friends of a friend were working to capture … Alice? … Fenimore? … Could be Gary, as in Gary Cooper for the younger crowd…
    Love the humor in the blog…time for the Capitol Steps!

  86. I’ve had this work with Robins at the building where I work. You pour water directly on the floor at the entrance of where you think the bird flew in. It only worked in the daylight though. Something with the reflection I think. But it works

  87. The comment from Zandperl is correct.

    The usage of the term “breed” is incorrect in this article.

    Being a biologist, the usage above seemed blatantly wrong to me (from a technical usage.) It seems inappropriate even from the perspective of common usage. The “World English Dictionary” defines a breed as,
    “a group of organisms within a species, esp a group of domestic animals, originated and maintained by man and having a clearly defined set of characteristics ”

    ‘Cooper’s Hawk’ is a species (Accipiter cooperii).

    Therefore, the speaker should have said “species”, when responding the question “How do you know it’s a Cooper’s Hawk?”

    Corrected answer:
    “We don’t know for sure. But a Library staffer who by avocation is a birder checked an app she keeps on her iPhone and determined that to be the likely SPECIES.”

    I make no claim regarding whether this particular bird is a Cooper’s Hawk or a different species of Hawk. That determination is left to the bird watchers.

  88. Well let’s see how about Lola, whatever Lola wants Lola gets

  89. I haved removed birds from rooms by darkening the room and leave one exit with a very bright light outside the darkened room

  90. Name: Jim Hawkins

  91. A couple of weeks ago I saw (what I believe to be) a Cooper’s Hawk having “lunch” near the skating rink by the National Gallery. I have pictures, but a bit graphic I’m afraid. Could be the same bird? It’s not that far “as the crow files.”

    I was amazed that s/he was no more than 30 feet from all the skating activity…and no one else seemed to see this bird!

  92. perhaps it’s a Deficit Hawk?

  93. PS
    Male or female if she is banded before release… her TWAIN

  94. I enjoyed the story as much as many of the other commenters. But here’s the crux of the matter for me: This bird is WILD and needs to live his or her usual WILD life.

    Naming, identifying–all amusing. But the fact is that the bird is probably starving to death or seriously dehydrating.

    I hope the LoC staff is diligently working on finding a qualified professional who can free this poor bird!

    That being said, I can’t resist casting my vote for “Hawkeye.” It is, after all, very Fenimore-esque.

  95. The Albatross:Charles Baudelaire, Jonathan Livingston Seagull:Richard Bach, Who killed Cock Robin with the arrow? I wonder if a Cooper hawk tastes like squab.

  96. Appreciate the sense of humor in the article. Worked 23 years in a public library and loved every minute of it.

  97. I just want to point out that you could bait whatever exit you want it to use with a live bird.

    Or for that matter, if you are worried about it’s health for lack of food, you could bring some other prey birds in (actually not joking).

    I love watching birds of prey hunt. They are a gift.

  98. I hope that they catch the hawk so it can be set free. It is probably starving not to mention thirsty.
    Cooper is a good name.


  99. Fascinating story. But why nickname HER Jefferson? Why not Sarah Josepha Hale, Abigail Adams or Harriet Beecher Stowe? Seems to uphold a hegemony of patriarchy. Jefferson was an amazing person, but there were some amazing females in our country’s history, as well.

  100. “I hope that they catch the hawk so it can be set free. It is probably starving not to mention thirsty.” I am sure that this hawk can fend for itself.

  101. I have a pair of cooper hawks hanging out at my property. Last year they had four young ones and it was quite a blessing to be able to watch them learn to fly. That was last year and shure enough this year 2011 they are back in the sme place with another broot of young ones I belielve four on top ;of the shed next to the eucaliptus were they nest. I am fortunate and luky to be able to witness this exciting event

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