Cooper's Hawk

(Accipiter Cooperii)

Cooper's Hawks are among the bird world’s most skillful fliers.

Cooper’s Hawks which are in the group of raptors (birds of prey) called Accipiters. Birds in this group have long tails and short-rounded wings for dodging through the maze of branches in forest that are its natural habitats.

This hawk is a common woodland hawk (Native Habitat) that tears through cluttered tree canopies in high speed pursuit of other birds.

You’re most likely to see one prowling above a forest edge or fields using just a few stiff wing beats followed by a glide.

Cooper's (and its small cousin Sharpies) are well acclimated to suburban and city life as they are often seen plucking one of your feeder birds.

In my case, the spruce trees that border my yard are often a favorite hiding spot for these hawks.

With their smaller look alike cousin, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, these hawks make for famously tricky identifications. Both species are sometimes unwanted guests at bird feeders, looking for an easy meal.

Size & Shape:

A medium-sized hawk with the classic accipiter shape: broad, rounded wings and a very long tail. In Cooper’s Hawks, the head often appears large, the shoulders broad, and the tail rounded.

The Cooper's Hawk is from 14 to 18 inches long, with a wingspan of from 27 to 35 inches. The male, smaller than the female, is about the same size as the female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Pictured is an immature female Cooper's hawk on my deck rail (the beam is a 2x6). As you can see, this bird is a good 16 to 18 inches in length.



Length: 14.5"–15.4" (37–39 cm)

Wingspan: 24.5–35.5" (62–90 cm)

Weight: 7.8–14.5 oz. (220–410 g)


Length: 16.5"–18" (42–46 cm)

Wingspan: 29.5"–35.5" (75–90 cm)

Weight: 11.5–24 oz. (330–680 g)

Color Pattern:

Adult Cooper's are steely blue-gray above with warm reddish bars on the underparts and thick dark bands on the tail. Juveniles are brown above and crisply streaked with brown on the upper breast, giving them a somewhat hooded look compared with young Sharp-shinned Hawks' more diffuse streaking.


Look for Cooper’s Hawks to fly with a flap-flap-glide pattern typical of accipiters. Even when crossing large open areas they rarely flap continuously. Another attack maneuver is to fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side.

Wooded habitats from deep forests to leafy subdivisions and backyards.

General Description:

Cooper's Hawk is the most widespread of the three North American accipiters. Females are up to one third larger than males, one of the largest sexual dimorphism size differences of any hawk. Adults have solid gray upperparts, barred with reddish-brown.

Their long tails are barred gray and black, rounded at the ends, with a white band at the tips. Their eyes are red. as seen by this large
mature female in my backyard.


Immature birds are brown above with brown streaking on their white underparts; they have yellow eyes. They have short, rounded wings that are set slightly farther back on their bodies than those of the smaller, but similar-looking, Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Their heads are relatively larger and their gray caps are darker and a little more prominent than those of the Sharp-shinned. The white tip of the tail of the Cooper's is usually wider than that of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, especially in the fall. All of these differences are quite subtle, and with the size difference between males and females, it can be difficult to distinguish a male Cooper's Hawk from a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

This species lives to about 7 years on average in the wild, yet some records report up to 12 years while an average low if 16.3 months in some studies.

These Hawks are generally found in forested areas up to 3,000 feet, especially near edges and rivers. Unlike the Sharp-shinned Hawk, which prefers conifers, the Cooper's prefers hardwood stands when they are available, but will use conifers too. The species prefers mature forests, but can be found in urban and suburban areas where there are tall trees for nesting.

During the nesting season, Cooper's are often more common in open areas than Sharp-shinned Hawks. In winter, Sharp-shinned Hawks are seen in more open areas.


The hunting Hawk approaches its prey stealthily, moving quietly through dense cover until it is close enough to overcome its target with a burst of speed. The secretive traits that allow this species Hawk to surprise its prey also make it deadly accurate in backyards.

Short powerful wings designed for woodland hunting are ideal for suburban hunting as well.


Medium to small sized birds (robins, doves and jays, to sparrow sized birds) and small mammals (squirrels and mice) make up the majority of the Cooper's Hawk's diet.

Cooper's Hawks also eat small mammals, especially rodents such as chipmunks and tree squirrels. Mammalian prey can be as small as mice and as large as hares. Other possibilities are lizards, frogs, snakes and large insects.

The hawks often pluck the feathers off their prey on a post or other perch. They are increasingly seen hunting smaller songbirds in backyards with feeders.

They will perch in trees overlooking the feeders, then swoop down and scatter the other birds in order to capture one in flight.

Nesting and Mating:

Are sexually mature at 2 years of age.

Cooper's Hawks are monogamous and many pairs mate for life.

Courtship is lengthy for Cooper's Hawks, and the male may feed the female for up to a month before she begins to lay eggs. They nest in a tree, 25-50 feet off the ground.

They nest in a tree, 25-50 feet off the ground. The nest is often built on top of an old nest or clump of mistletoe.

Both sexes help build the stick nest lined with pieces of bark. The female incubates the 3 to 5 eggs for 30 to 33 days.

The male brings food and incubates the eggs when the female leaves the nest to eat. Once the 3 to 5 eggs hatch, the female broods for about two weeks.

During this time, the Male Cooper's continues to bring food for the female and the young. He gives the food to the female, and she feeds it to the nestlings.

The young start to climb about the nest at four weeks of age, and begin to make short flights soon after. The parents continue to feed the young for up to seven weeks.

Migration Status:

Most Cooper's Hawks probably migrate south for the winter, but are replaced by other birds from farther north. Fall migration is often along mountain ridges and coastlines.

Conservation Status:

Cooper's Hawk populations, especially in the East, declined significantly in the middle of the 20Th Century, due to shooting, trapping, and pesticide contamination. They are still listed as endangered or threatened in several eastern states, but most populations have recovered well.

Intentional killing is no longer an issue in most areas, although it does still occur. Pesticide contamination has less of an impact since the banning of DDT.

Populations in the West appear to be relatively stable. Because Cooper's Hawks are inconspicuous, especially when they are nesting, it is difficult to get a clear picture of their status. Cooper's Hawks are reclusive and can be difficult to spot, especially during the breeding season

Cooper's Hawk and Other Birds

Sharp-Shinned Hawks

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