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What is a Cooper's Hawk?

Steve R.
Steve R.

Cooper's hawk, Accipiter cooperii, is a medium-sized migratory bird found in forests in Northern and Central America. The bird typically ranges from 14 to 21 inches (about 35 to 53 centimeters) long, possessing a wingspan of 27 to 36 inches (about 69 to 91 centimeters). An adept flier with small, rounded wings, the Cooper's hawk was named after William Cooper, who helped identify the species in the 1820s.

The hawk is commonly found in urban and suburban areas in southern Canada, throughout the United States, and Mexico. The bird is also found in Central America, down through Costa Rica. Northern populations of the hawk migrate more often than southern inhabitants. Hawks in the eastern part of the United States typically migrate to central and southern areas of the United States, and birds from the western part of the United States fly south to central and southern Mexico during the winter.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Also known as the big blue darter, the Cooper's hawk has bluish gray upper parts and a white underbelly. The hawk has a distinctive tail that alternates between dark and gray colors, with a noticeable white band at the end. Adult females tend to be about a third larger than males. The bird also possesses sharp talons to easily seize its prey, and a hooked bill that helps rip the flesh of its victims.

Typically, the Cooper's hawk will kill its prey by squeezing it to death, biting, or even drowning. The hawk's diet consists mostly of other medium-sized birds including robins, meadowlarks, and blackbirds. The hawk also feeds on a variety of other animals, including chipmunks, mice, and squirrels, as well as insects, lizards, and bats.

The duty of building a nest typically falls to the male. Nests are built from sticks that are about 27 inches (about 68 centimeters) wide and about 20 to 60 feet (about 6 to 18 meters) above ground in dense, wooded areas. The birds often build their nests in trees like pines, oaks, beeches, and spruces. Hawks generally go back to the same breeding area every year, but they typically find a different mate for each next season.

The female Cooper's hawk will lay up to six eggs, which take a little more than a month to hatch. When the young are born, they have a coating of white down and weigh about 1 ounce (about 28 grams). Females brood while the males catch the food for their young. In a little more than a month, the small hawks will leave the nest.

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Discussion Comments


I have a terrible story. My family and I were staying in a rental house on a lake in the words one summer. The back deck of the house was very large and there were several bird feeders attached to the trees. The deck was actually built around a couple of the trees.

Anyway, the birds, squirrels and chipmunks would all come onto the deck and the trees to feed from the bird feeders. There was a big glass wall, so we could sit inside and watch the animals feed. This was great. We had our own front row view of nature in action. The kids loved it.

One day we were watching the blue jays, who often hogged the feeders, and a hawk came down and snatched the jay and flew off. I probably would have screamed, but the whole thing happened so quickly that I didn't have time. After that, I spent less time watching the bird feeders.


@Feryll - Hawks are often mistaken for other birds of prey, especially by people who don't have much knowledge about birds. And I think the majority of people fit into this category. I know people who use the terms eagle and hawk interchangeably like there is no difference in the two birds.


There is a bird who has a nest near where I work. I see him flying around almost everyday. Originally, I thought the bird was a falcon. I've never seen a falcon in the wild, but I have seen them on TV, and this is what this bird looked like to me.

I told a friend about the bird and he said it was probably a Cooper's hawk. Actually, this makes more sense since there are no wild falcons where I live. They do look a lot like falcons though.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy