About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Friday, February 3, 2012

ID tips for the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk

This fellow was around our feeders for about a week last Fall.  My son caught a picture of him.  He has a sparrow in his talons which are through the metal mesh!  He hung this way for a good five minutes.  He kept gently twisting around to watch the area while he held the sparrow.  Eventually, he let go of the sparrow and flew up into the trees.  The sparrow survived and flew off!  The hawk then came back to the feeders and just sat there for a long time looking for his dinner!

I love your blog and have learned so much from it! Thanks, Kate in Massachusetts

Wow! I love the photo and the story. You can tell the bird is young not only by its "unique" hunting style but also by the vertical brown stripes on the chest and yellow eyes.

I'm glad you were able to capture the scene. This is exactly why I started the blog, as a place to share stories and information. Thank you for writing, Sarah

Is it a Cooper's Hawk?  It's interesting because we saw this fellow for the week and then the Massachusetts Audubon sent its newsletter to me featuring a story about Cooper's Hawks at the feeders.  Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have known what he was! ~ Kate

I think you are right. It looks like a young Cooper's Hawk to me. Sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus) and Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii) hawks can be hard to Id from photographs. The birds have a lot of variation in plumage and size and there no single field marks that distinguishes one species from the other.

Sharp-shinned Hawks average 10-14" long. Females are larger and can appear nearly as large as a male Cooper's Hawk. Where Cooper's Hawks average 14-20" long and males are smaller and can appear nearly as small as a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The following are ID tips from Project Feeder Watch for the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk:

1) The tail feathers of Sharp-shinned Hawks appear squared, whereas a Cooper's Hawks tail looks rounded.
2) Cooper's Hawks have a barrel shaped chest. Sharp-shinned Hawks are widest at the shoulder and get distinctly narrower down to the hips.
3) A Sharp-shinned Hawk's head looks small compared to the body, and a Cooper's Hawk's head looks large.
4) Cooper's Hawks are usually larger than Sharp-shinned Hawks.
5) A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk has very thick, rufous stripes that extend down the lower belly while the Cooper's Hawk has very thin, dark vertical streaks that fade away on the lower belly.
6) Sharp-shinned have very thin toes and legs, compared to the Cooper's Hawk.
7) The color of the nape of an adult Cooper's Hawks is pale with a clear contrast to a dark cap. Juveniles of both species can show a pale nape, however.

More identification tips and challenges can be seen on Project Feeder Watch's Accipiter Photo Gallery page: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/accipiterphoto.htm

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JosephAlsarraf said...

That's cool, nice bird! Lol! It kind of looks like it is wearing pants. Hey, I have a bird that I see every once in a while that I've been trying to identify, where do I send the photo? : )

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

If you want to share your photos, email them to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll post them on Friday's blog posts.

kathy jane said...

Thanks for the article! We had a sharp-shinned visit our backyard a couple of weeks ago...he hung around for a couple of hours, perched on one of our feeders. I've never seen a hawk before & it was quite exciting. It was a very quiet time at the feeders!

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Hawks aren't what people usually want to attract when they are bird feeding, but I think they are impressive. I enjoy the occasional visit or drive-by.

Thanks for commenting. Sarah