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Cooper's Hawk


Just about anyone who has a birdfeeder in North America shouldn’t be surprised if they get a visit from a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), as these medium-sized hawks prey almost exclusively on other birds. Though not as common as the larger red-tailed hawk, the Cooper’s hawk is the most widely distributed accipiter in North America. It has adapted quite well to suburban living and is even more common in heavily wooded areas.

Cooper’s hawks are usually about 15-16 inches in length with a two to three foot wingspan. As is common in raptors, females are significantly larger than males. These birds are primarily brown and slate grey in color with and can have white spots and fine reddish bars. They have long, powerful legs and reddish eyes. Broad wings and a very long tail for their body size are also key identifiers.

These hawks are year-round residents throughout most of the United States. In the summer they can be found as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Panama in the winter. They prefer a forest or woodland habitat, but can also thrive in wooded suburban areas. Cooper’s hawks east of the Mississippi River tend to be larger and heavier than their western counterparts, but the bird’s range does extend coast to coast.

Cooper’s hawks are aerial hunters and prey on small to medium birds up to the size of pheasants. Their hunting technique consists of surprise attacks. Using their incredible eyesight, Cooper’s hawks spot their prey from the edge of a forest and quickly swoop through the dense woods to capture it in their talons. They will also perch near backyard bird feeders and swoop in to scatter the birds, catching one in mid-flight. The Cooper’s hawk’s hunting techniques are quite hazardous, frequently causing broken bones from collisions with trees. The Cooper’s hawk will also hunt mammals and lizards, but this is rare and usually the domain of the larger red-tailed hawk.

Cooper’s hawks form monogamous pairs and usually mate for life. Nests are built 25-50 feet up large trees in forested areas by the male over a period of about two weeks. The female will lay a clutch of 2-6 eggs which she will incubate for about a month. After hatching, the female broods the nestlings for two weeks while the male hunts for food; fledging occurs one month later, with the nestlings becoming totally independent after two months. Cooper’s hawks live for approximately 12 years in the wild.


Cooper’s Hawk Facts

  • In a study of over 300 Cooper’s hawk skeletons, 23% showed some evidence of healed bone fractures, presumably from the bird’s dangerous hunting techniques.
  • A common nickname for the Cooper’s hawk is the chickenhawk.
  • The oldest known Cooper’s hawk lived 20 years and 4 months.






The Cornell Lab of Orinthology


United States Geological Survey

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