Sharp-Shinned vs Cooper’s Hawk ID


This has been a great discussion and ID lesson for these hawks. Thanks Terryann for initiating and thanks to Bruce Haak (Idaho Dept of Fish and Game Biologist) and Sean Finn (Golden Eagle Chapter, National Audubon Society) for your inputs. Robin found the following information on the two hawks at The Bird Source. Interesting.

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks

Sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus) and Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii) hawks commonly prey on feeder birds, and they are frequently reported by FeederWatchers. Despite their common occurrence, these hawks present a significant identification problem for many beginning and intermediate (and even more advanced!) birders. Throughout the year, there is great variation in plumage and in size for these two species. Therefore, perhaps more than any other similar-looking pair, no single field mark is likely to distinguish one species from the other. Instead, the careful observer must use a combination of field marks and draw from the overall “gestalt” of the hawk for proper identification. No field guide will substitute plenty of practice in the field for this pair.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

A small, jay-size hawk (avg. 10-14″ long), with dark gray back, a rusty-barred breast, a slender square-tipped tail. Left, adult: sexes are similar, but female is larger in size.- SIZE: Similar to a jay or a dove. Female is larger and can be similar to smaller Cooper’s. Therefore, size often unreliable.
– BODY SHAPE: Broad chest and narrow hips lend the bird a more regal appearance…center of gravity is often high
– LEGS: Thinner, pencil-like legs compared to Cooper’s.
– TAIL: Tip of long tail is square, showing prominent corners. The outer tail feathers are usually the longest (or nearly so). Don’t mistake thin white terminal band with grey above as the “broad white band” of Cooper’s. Note: tail tip of soaring bird appears rounded.
– HEAD FEATHERS: Feathers on crown and back of neck are dark, giving the bird a “hooded” appearance.
– SOARING: Short rounded wings are pushed forward at the wrists, so that the small head barely extends past the wings.
– FLIGHT: Typically flies with several quick wingbeats followed by a short glide. When compared to the Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-shinned’s wing beats are erratic, more difficult to count.

Immature Sharp-shinned Hawks

-Birds have brown backs and streaked underparts.
-Heavy, bold (reddish) streaks on underparts, especially on lower breast and belly.
-Birds have yellow eyes (adults have red eyes). Usually has a pale stripe above the eye.

——————————

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

A medium crow-size hawk (avg.14-20″ long) with a dark gray back, a rusty-barred breast, dark cap, and a long, rounded tail. Right, adult: sexes are similar, but female is larger in size.
– SIZE: Slightly larger than most Sharp-shinneds, similar to a crow.
– BODY SHAPE: Broad chest and thick body lend the bird a thicker, “scrappy” appearance. Thick, tubular body has a lower center of gravity than Sharp-shinned.
– LEGS: Thicker than Sharp-shinned.
– TAIL: In fresh fall plumage, its long tail is rounded at the tip with a broad white band. The middle tail feathers are usually the longest.
HEAD FEATHERS: Feathers on crown are black and feathers on back of neck are pale, giving the bird a “capped” appearance. Feathers on back of head often raised, giving it a crested look. (This is never seen on the Sharp-shinned.)
– SOARING: The large, angular head projects far beyond the wings giving the bird a cross-like appearance. Extended tail appears proportionally longer than Sharp-shinneds, though this feature is often too subtle to detect.
– FLIGHT: Often flies with slower wing beats followed by a short glide. The slower, regular wing beats are easily counted when bird flies overhead.

Immature Cooper’s Hawks

-Birds have brown backs and streaked underparts.
-Finer streaks mostly on upper breast; lower belly mostly white.
– Yellow eyes (adults have red eyes). Lacks stripe above the eye.
-Often has reddish cast on side of head and nape.

So there we have some more information on the bird spotted by Terryann. Thanks to all who helped on the identification and the resource data. Cheers! Keep up the great work.

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