Cooper’s Hawk

So this hawk has been a visitor to the backyard (both ours and our neighbor’s) several times over the years. While one usually thinks of hawks being forest birds only–the Cooper’s hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and the sharp-shinned hawk occasionally patrol backyards that have bird feeders looking for a quick meal to catch.

We’ve had both immature and adults perching on wood racks or the fence line over the years looking around the backyard for a snack.

Cooper’s Hawk perched on tree branches looking for a snack

The Cooper’s hawk is a medium size hawk (roughly the size of a crow), with broad rounded wings and a long tail.

If looking at the Cooper’s hawk from the side (or behind), the adults are a steely-blue gray color, while the younger hawks are brown. The breast of the adults have a reddish bar pattern, while the younger hawks’ breasts have a more streaked look (no distinguishing bar patterns yet).

Cooper’s hawk sitting on the fence

With their coloring and size (though they’re slightly larger), they look similar to another hawk–the sharp-shinned hawk. Birding experts say that looking at the legs (from the front) is one way to distinguish them–Cooper’s hawks have thicker legs and larger feet compared to the sharp-shinned hawk.

In terms of location–they are fairly common throughout the United States. If spotted in teh northern states (and some parts of southern Canada), those birds usually migrate further south for the winter.

Range map for the Cooper’s hawk. Map (c) birds of the world

Oklahoma, being in the middle of the US is one state that they’re year round residents in. Therefore, they can be found in forests, city parks, and cruising through backyards (if you have bird feeders out to attract other birds).

In terms of their diet–they mainly go after medium size birds. These birds include starlings, mourning doves, robins, jays, northern flickers, quail, pheasants, grouse, and chickens.

Though they will also eat small mammals (such as squirrels, mice, chipmunks, hares, and bats). These types of mammals, make a good proportion of the diet for Cooper’s hawks in the western part of the United States.

Cooper’s Hawk getting ready to take flight

So if you have bird feeders out that really only attract the smaller finches and sparrows, you probably won’t have any Cooper’s hawks flying though your yard looking for a mid-day snack as they don’t usually hunt small songbirds.

Like other raptors, they have managed to make a rebound from the mid-1900s when the use of pesticides (namely DTT) and widespread shootings had greatly reduced their population.

Though a common raptor to see–they may still be vulnerable to poisonings (as they do go after small mammals as well). So it is still vital that we become better stewards of this plaent, and realize that all living things are needed to keep a balance going.