Riding the storm out: select demographics of a breeding population of Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) following a severe spring snowstorm

Robert N. Rosenfield 1
  • 1 Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, 54481, Stevens Point


The demographic responses to severe weather by top-level predators, including birds of prey, are underreported and/or unknown. Severe storms are predicted by climate change models to increase globally and in frequency into the 22nd century. In April 2018, a population of breeding Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) in central Wisconsin, USA, experienced three days of heavy snowfall in the most severe storm, in pre-incubation-stage, for 39 years (1980–2018). Here I report select demographic outcomes of this nesting population following this intense weather. The median hatching date of 10 June in 2018 was the sixth latest such metric in those 39 years (and the latest in 22 years since 1996) for this population, which has advanced its breeding schedule about 1.3 days/decade due to climate change or warming. Survival of a total of 16 color-marked breeding adults, 15 males and 1 female, observed pre-storm in the nesting areas, was 100% up through the late nestling stage in the same nesting areas where these birds were initially detected in 2018. Average clutch size (4.4 eggs/nest) and average brood size (4.0 young/nest) were similar to the overall average annual metrics of these demographics for this population in the earlier 38 study years. Nest success, whereby 95% of 21 nests with eggs produced advanced-aged young, was higher in 2018 than the overall average of 77% nest success rate during the earlier years. The later timing of hatching in 2018, likely due to the severe spring snowstorm, appeared to have no deleterious effects either on survival of the breeding adults or on the reproductive output of this healthy study population. Tree-canopy prey may have served as important alternative food for this typically ground-foraging raptor in 2018.

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