The Cooper’s hawk and its closely related accipiter cousin, the sharp-shinned hawk, can be one of the most difficult birds of prey to identify. Swift and agile, this raptor is a cunning predator that can be found not only in forested areas but also in backyards.
- Bill: Dark, hooked, yellow cere
- Size: 14-20 inches long with 25-35-inch wingspan, long tail
- Colors: Brown, black, gray, white, rufous
- Markings: Genders have similar coloring but females are larger. The head is blue-gray with a darker cap and the wings and back are blue-gray. The chest and abdomen are white with heavy rufous or brown barring or streaking that is lighter toward the legs. The long tail has thick bars and prominent white terminal band. The undertail coverts are white and the legs are yellow.
Habitat and Migration:
Cooper’s hawks are common accipiters throughout the United States, Mexico and southern Canada and can be found in forested habitats including mountainous regions. Northern populations in the Northeast, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and southern Canada may migrate seasonally depending on available food.
Birds of prey are not typically vocal, but Cooper’s hawks will use a rapid, sharp “keh-keh-keh-keh-keh-keh” call alarmed or aggressive, as well as a high pitched whistle when threatened or in distress.
Cooper’s hawks are territorial birds that can be aggressive toward other raptors, particularly sharp-shinned hawks. They hunt either by flying near bushes to ambush small prey or by perching on poles, fences or trees to wait for small birds to approach. Their long tails and short wings give them excellent maneuverability through forests.
Cooper’s hawks are monogamous birds and a mated pair will produce one brood of 2-5 eggs each year. Both parents incubate the eggs for 30-35 days and will feed the young birds for 27-35 days until they are ready to leave the nest.
Attracting Cooper’s Hawks:
Cooper’s hawks are one bird of prey that can be attracted to backyards because they will readily feed on small and medium birds, particularly ground feeding species such as mourning doves. Leaving dead trees or poles available as perching areas will give these hawks a vantage point for hunting.
Birders who prefer to protect their backyard birds from hawks can use several different techniques to avoid attracting Cooper’s hawks, such as providing shelter for feeding birds and eliminating ground feeding stations.
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
- Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)