Sunday, March 27, 2011

Coopers Hawk

Majestic birds like this Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) are regular visitors to backyards and bird feeders all across their range. They are not after the birdseed, but rather after the birds that are after the birdseed. This one was photographed at my office as it sat in a tree right outside my office window. I noticed the song birds had disappeared, and when I looked out to see what the problem was I spotted this beautiful hawk sitting there as if daring the little songbirds to show up. The songbirds seemed to know he was nearby and stayed a safe distance away. After about 30 minutes he gave up waiting for dinner to show up and flew off. Within about 15 minutes after the hawk departed, the songbirds showed up at the feeders again.

Coopers hawks are medium sized birds with males being smaller than females. Average weight for a male is less than a pound and females weigh up to 1.2 pounds. Birds found in the eastern part of the United States are typically larger than their western cousins. All have short rounded wings and a very long tail with dark bands, round-ended at the tip. Adults have red eyes and have a black cap, with blue-gray upper parts and white underparts with fine, thin, reddish bars. Their tail is blue gray on top and pale underneath, barred with black bands. Immatures have yellow eyes and have a brown cap, with brown upper parts and pale underparts with thin black streaks mostly ending at the belly. Their tail is brown on top and pale underneath, barred with dark bands. The eyes of this hawk, as in most predatory birds, face forward, enabling good depth perception for hunting and catching prey while flying at top speeds. They have hooked bills that are well adapted for tearing flesh of prey. Immatures are somewhat larger than a Sharp-shinned Hawk and smaller than a Northern Goshawk, though small males nearly overlap with large female Sharp-shinned hawk, and large female Cooper's Hawks nearly overlap with small male Goshawks. The Cooper's Hawk appears long-necked in flight and has been described by birdwatchers as looking like a "flying cross". The Cooper’s Hawk is seen mostly flying with quick, consecutive wing beats and a short glide, though they may also soar.

Coopers hawks mate for life. They will mate once per year and raise one brood per year. Their breeding range begins in Southern Canada and extends to Northern Mexico. Those birds living in the northern most part of their range are migratory and leave their summer ranges and head south. During the winter months we see a large increase in hawks coming into Missouri, Coopers hawks included. They will be found in woodlots, riparian areas, open woodlands, and deciduous woodlands. They are becoming increasingly common in cities and can be found nesting in backyards and city parks. They feed on a wide variety of food including backyard birds, lizards, frogs, snakes, chipmunks, mice, squirrels, rabbits and bats. They have even been observed drowning their prey. For many years these hawks were hunted by farmers because of the belief that they fed on chickens and were given the nick-name "Chicken Hawks." Because of this persecution they were hunted to almost extinction, then with they added threat of DDT their numbers dropped drastically. Research proved that they did not feed on chickens with any regularity and the damage was not as severe as farmers claimed. DDT was banned and with the hunting banned their numbers climbed and they are quite common throughout their range now. 

Cooper's Hawk was first described by French naturalist Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1828. It is a member of the goshawk genus Accipiter This bird was named after the naturalist,William Cooper one of the founders of the New York Lyceum of Natural History (later the New York Academy of Sciences in. New York Other common names; Big Blue Darter, Chicken Hawk, Hen Hawk, Mexican Hawk, Quail Hawk, Striker and Swift Hawk.


  1. Very interesting Shelly. We have had quite a few Hawks at our feeders this winter and I hate seeing them around. They are beautiful but I know what they are there for and it just makes me feel sad. I know they need to eat too, just not one of the birds at my feeder!

  2. Thanks Rural, happy to have you visit my much neglected blog. I agree it is somewhat sad to see these hawks feed on songbirds at feeders, especially when we humans put the food out to lure the songbirds and the hawks follow the songbirds. It must be like and all-you-can-eat buffet to these hawks when they spot so many little birds at one location. No hawk could resist that temptation. As sad as it is though, it is still fascinating to watch these birds in action. The one at my office that I photographed here returns on a regular basis, he even terrorizes the squirrels by dive bombing them

  3. I live in St. Louis and had a Coopers hawk in my birdbath yesterday! It then sat on the fence for about 5 min.--very cool to watch!!

  4. Just on the chance that someone will see this and comment... I'm in south St. Louis county, near the Mississippi River and Jefferson Barracks Nat'l Park. A neighbor had told me she saw a hawk in a tree in my backyard about two weeks ago. Today I saw three soaring in a large circle above me. They were squalking too. They were lightly colored with dark rings on the tips of their wings.
    I was nervous because I was outside with my 25 lb. dachshund and my friend's maybe 10 lb. 7 week old German Shepherd puppy. They didn't stay around long, I barely had time to try to take a picture with my cell phone.
    I understand that they probably came from the river and the Barracks, there's a lot of wildlife there. I love that I am able to see them near my house. The thing that scares me my Dachshund in danger? He's only outside to do his business now in the winter but as it warms up, he's out for a little longer periods of time, usually with me. Should I be worried? Thank you.

  5. I was curious how many hawks remained in Missouri during winter. Now I see you are saying that the hawks north of Missouri migrate here over winter, increasing the hawk population. I was researching Missouri winter predators, as I have backyard chickens. My coop/run/yard setup is secure, but knowing food is more scarce in winter for predators; want to know what my chickens may be up against. Any tips for running off hawks? coyotes? I would think the skunks or smaller predators would run at the sight of a human. I have bird netting covering my fenced in chickenyard, so should deter a 1 pound hawk. thanks in advance

  6. Today I was saddened to find that the high winds here in Missouri had lifted the nest out of the tree after watching the same nest over the past few yrs I was worried about the wind she held on to the nest as long as they could even trying to add more structure with fresh evergreens , the winds were just to much I found the nest and 3 or 4 broken eggs tonight she just sits where the nest once was wondering what happened nature is wonderful but we have to take the good and bad God Bless.