Cooper’s hawks like all raptors exhibit sexual dimorphism — the male is on the left, female on right. USF&W photo

I find it comforting that the Cooper’s is patrolling the skies over Waynesville — that there is something wild among us.

I had to stop at the BB&T building and pick up some papers last week. It was one of those cold gray days. As I headed back west on Main Street a female Cooper’s hawk dropped into sight from over the buildings on my left, turned left and cruised down Main Street a few hundred yards before turning right, rising and disappearing over the rooftops on my right.

It was a time warp. One of those moments when the frantic hyper-charged molecules of time slow down and pour out like blackstrap molasses over camp-stove buttered biscuits. On the daily grind side of the warp a few mundane seconds passed.

From in the warp, there was no time, just the hawk and me. How she drew my eyes up and to the left at the precise moment she dropped over the buildings is a secret only she knows. But there she was, all accipiter — short, round wings, long tail, quick wing beats and glide. And no doubt a female Cooper’s.

Because of the sexual dimorphism exhibited by accipiters (the female may be two-thirds larger than the male), female sharp-shinned hawks and male Cooper’s hawks might be hard to distinguish from one another. They can overlap in length at around 12 to 14 inches, about the size of a flicker. The female Cooper’s, however is usually around 18 to 19 inches about the size of a crow.

The wing beats were fluid and rhythmic but they seemed in slow motion. And when she would glide she would turn her head to the left and right as if surveying rooftops for a night’s dinner of starling or pigeon. The fact that she would survey her left and right by simply turning her head is another giveaway that she was a Cooper’s.

Sharp-shins have shorter necks and smaller heads than Cooper’s. Plus, when they glide they carry their “wrists” (the point where the wing bends) more forward than Cooper’s, thus when a gliding Sharp-shinned scans to the left or right it must dip its wing in that direction.         

The Cooper’s lifted, turned right and disappeared over Mast General in one graceful movement, leaving me with that feeling one gets when suddenly and unexpectedly nature smiles on you.