If you are feeding birds at your house this winter, you might occasionally find a mysterious pile of feathers near your feeders. Or perhaps you’ve seen a small bird prey about the size of crow perched vigilantly in a nearby tree. It might be a Cooper’s Hawk, named for a 19th century naturalist.
The Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is mainly a predator of medium-sized songbirds such as mourning doves, pigeons, starlings, and robins, though it will take sparrows and other small birds as well as other types of prey. This agile hawk is a member of the Accipiter Family, slender birds with long, narrow tails and short, broad wings in addition to the hooked beak and talons typical of hawks. Accipiters also have a characteristic flight pattern, a series of flaps followed by a glide, which is a useful trait for spotting them out in the field, and they are remarkably acrobatic in pursuit of prey, able to give chase through woods and thickets.
Adult Cooper’s Hawks are bluish gray on the back with a red-brown streaked breast, and they are most often confused with the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk; here’s a handy link for comparing the two species. While it might be disconcerting to lose a feeder bird to a Cooper’s Hawk now and then, it is also important to note that the presence of birds of prey is an indicator that the surrounding habitat is healthy enough to support them and the species they depend on to survive.
For more information on the Cooper’s Hawk, please visit the links below.
(Cooper's Hawk photo by Evan Lipton)
Natural Highlights: Cooper’s Hawk The Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is mainly a predator of medium-sized songbirds such as mourning doves, pigeons, starlings, and robins, though it will take sparrows and other small birds as well as other types of prey.