Cooper's Hawk

Accipiter cooperii



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Photos from this Account

Adult Cooper's Hawk.

Medium-sized hawk with short, rounded wings and long, rounded tail. In adults, back and upperwing coverts are bluish brown (females) to blue-gray (males) with barred rufous underparts. Dark crown contrasts with lighter-colored nape. Tail is tipped white and usually shows 3 straight alternating bands of dark and light brown or blue-gray. Iris is red in older birds; legs are yellow.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk.

In Juvenile Plumage, back and upperwing coverts are medium brown with some white mottling and rufous feather edging. The underparts are streaked brownish.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (left) and Juvenile Cooper's Hawk (right).

Field identification can be difficult. In flight, the Sharp-shinned Hawk's head barely projects beyond the leading edge of its wings; in Cooper's the head projects farther beyond the wings. Some Juveniles of both species can show reddish upper breasts but are streaked through most of the underparts.

Sharp-shinned Hawk (left) and Cooper's Hawk (right).

Cooper's Hawks are larger than Sharp-shinned Hawks, although this difference can be difficult to judge lacking comparison. Cooper's Hawk has a more rounded tail (although the difference can appear slight), and a wider white terminal tailband than Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk chick (19 May).

Hatchlings completely covered with white natal down. Two distinct generations of down develop, from two separate sets of follicles. The first down is short and white until 5–6 d. when it is replaced by a longer, white or buffy down. Between 11-13 d., sheaths of juvenile feathers begin to emerge, as is occurring in this chick.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk (5 September).

Upperparts including upperwing coverts dark brown, the feathers of crown and nape with white bases and the back feathers and wing coverts uniform in wear and with pale brown margins, creating scaly appearance. Sides of head pale brown with fine brown streaking and a variably distinct supercilium extending well behind eye. Iris color is yellow or light orange in first year.

Female (left) and male (right) Juvenile Cooper's Hawks (28 July).

Back feathers with pale brown margins, and the scapulars with a variable number of broad white tips giving a checkered look. Sexes are similar in plumage, but females (above left) are larger than males (right), as is the case with all Accipitrid raptors.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk (11 October).

Upperwing coverts uniform in wear, brown, the lesser coverts fringed rufous and the median and greater coverts fringed buff to whitish; remiges uniform in wear (without molt clines or suspension limits) and with inconspicuous darker brown barring on upper side, the tertials sometimes with white spots.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk (27 October).

Underparts pale buff to nearly white, the breast and belly (but not flanks or undertail coverts) with distinct, narrow, teardrop-shaped brownish-black longitudinal shaft streaks. Underwing coverts with teardrop-shaped streaks or spots. Underside of remiges with narrow dark brown bars. Rectrices with 4-6 distinct dusky bars and narrow white tips.

Formative Cooper's Hawk (11 May).

Formative Plumage is similar to Juvenile Plumage but scattered feathers (up to 10%) of upperparts and underparts contrastingly fresh. Newer formative feathers show patterns intermediate between juvenile and basic feathers. Iris color shifts progressively darker yellow to orange-yellow with age. Note the replaced formative bluish-tinged upper back feathers, contrasting with the browner juvenile scapulars and wing coverts. The deepening yellow eye color is typical of birds in Formative Plumage. This individual is likely a female based on the brownish-blue color of the formative feathers and the lack of orange tones in the iris, at a year of age, but sex is probably best left unknown based on this photograph.

Male Cooper's Hawk commencing the Second Prebasic Molt (23 June).

The Second Prebasic Molt of remiges has commenced in typical sequence, with p1 to p5 or p6, s5, and the middle tertial replaced or growing. Note also that the central rectrices and some wing coverts and scapulars are new or molting. Some birds may retain juvenile secondaries throughout Second Basic Plumage, typically among s3-s4 and/or s8-s10, the contrastingly thin, brown, and worn juvenile feathers allowing reliable age determination. The bluish coloration to the second-basic feathers and the orange tinge to the iris at a year of age indicates that this is a male.

Male Cooper's Hawk completing the Second Prebasic Molt (29 July).

Note the growing outer primaries and retained juvenile secondaries, s4 and s7-s9. These secondaries could well be retained following the molt and would identify this bird as in Second Basic Plumage. Note also the orange-yellow eye; this and the blue second-basic back feathers indicates a male.

Female Cooper's Hawk undergoing the Definitive Prebasic Molt (23 July).

Here, the primaries and secondaries are being replaced in typical sequence, with p5 or p6 growing, the tertials, s1-s2, and s5-s6 new or growing, and the outer primaries and s3-s4 and s8-s10 retained basic feathers, faded due to wear but not as thin, worn, or brown as juvenile feathers would appear during the Second Prebasic Molt. Note also a few retained basic upperwing coverts and underpart feathers, yet to be molted. The brownish-blue color to the new feathers indicates a female, and the reddish iris color is typical of older adult females.

Definitive Basic male Cooper's Hawk (13 December).

Upperparts (including tail and upperwing coverts) dark bluish gray, the crown darker, sometimes nearly black, with cinnamon tips on forehead feathers and white bases on nape feathers. Auriculars and foreneck gray with cinnamon tones; lores and short, indistinct supercilium pale gray with black shaft streaks and bristles evident. Underparts with reddish brown barring, almost obscuring white ground color on breast and flanks; tibial (thigh) feathering barred reddish and white.

Definitive Basic Cooper's Hawk (31 January).

Underside of tail pale gray with 3–4 blackish transverse bars; underwing coverts and axillaries white with reddish brown barring and white tips.

Definitive Basic female (foreground) and male (background) Cooper's Hawk (18 March).

Definitive Basic females are similar to Definitive Basic males but ground color brownish on upperparts (no bluish cast); auriculars, lores, and foreneck reddish brown; barring on underparts, thighs, and tibial feathering duller brownish, not as reddish. Note "suspension limits" to the secondaries of the female, with s5 and s6 appearing distinctly browner and more worn than other secondaries, suggesting replacement and suspension of molt during incubation the previous year.

Leucistic Cooper's Hawk.
Cooper's Hawk hunting European Starlings.

Starlings are a major prey item. Studies suggest most attacks target flocks; however, attacks on single birds were more successful.

Cooper's Hawk with Rock Pigeon.
Cooper's Hawk preying upon unidentified nestling at nest.
Cooper's Hawk at carcass.

It is unclear to what extent Cooper's Hawks scavenge.

Cooper's Hawk drinking.
Cooper's Hawk vocalizing.

Vocalizations probably a primary means of communication especially in individuals and breeding pairs that restrict their activities to relatively dense woodland vegetation where visual contact is limited.

Cooper's Hawk foraging on ground.

Occasionally runs or walks on ground to pursue or retrieve prey, or to gather nesting materials.

Cooper's Hawk flying in cluttered environment.
Cooper's Hawk in flight.

Flying birds use both legs to tuck prey to belly.

Cooper's Hawk bathing.

Enjoys bathing in pools of water, as well as in the rain.

Cooper's Hawk drying off.

After bathing, birds will often fly to a sunny perch to dry.

Cooper's Hawks interacting.
Cooper's Hawks interacting.
Cooper's Hawk courtship display.
Cooper's Hawk with tail coverts flared.
Cooper's Hawk copulation.

Male flies to female's tree perch to copulate; female may solicit by tilting to horizontal on perch. Male mounts, usually from flight, and balances with spread wings. One or both sexes give context-specific call while copulating. No post-copulatory displays evident.

Young Cooper's Hawk pouncing on stick.

Fledglings have been observed playing with objects during the fledging period.

Cooper's Hawk being mobbed by Crow sp.
Cooper's Hawk being mobbed by Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.
Cooper's Hawk mobbing Great-horned Owl.
Red-tailed Hawk stealing prey item from Cooper's Hawk.
Northern Goshawk preying upon Juvenile Cooper's Hawk.
Cooper's Hawk with nesting material.

Nest construction normally takes about two weeks to complete. Male does most of the nest building, but there is significant building by females, which will typically land without material on nest to apparently inspect construction progress; females occasionally bring in large flakes of bark during pre-incubation and early nestling stages to line nest cup.

Cooper's Hawk in nest.

Nests in extensive forests, woodlots of 4-8 ha (142, 82, 80, 100, 98), and occasionally in isolated trees in more open areas such as golf courses and cemeteries; common backyard breeding bird in cities of all sizes.

Cooper's Hawk nest.

Typically built of sticks with a “cup” lined with bark flakes; occasionally rimmed with green tree sprigs, placed in a main crotch or on a horizontal limb against the trunk of a live tree, and partly concealed and shaded by the canopy

Cooper's Hawk nest with eggs.

Completed clutch of typically pale bluish eggs at a Wisconsin nest. Numerous flakes of tree-bark are typically added during the incubation stage.

Cooper's Hawk egg.

Eggs are pale cobalt when fresh; fades to dirty white with bluish tinge during incubation; some eggs spotted with dried blood.

Adult Cooper's Hawk with chick in nest.

Hatchlings areable to stretch neck and bob head to receive and swallow food, and to crawl to edge of nest to defecate.

Female Cooper's Hawk with food at nest.

Direct feeding by female only, until young about 18–21 d and able to dismember prey. Before then, female tears food into small pieces and feeds young bill to bill.

Cooper's Hawk (cover image).

Recommended Citation

Rosenfield, R. N., K. K. Madden, J. Bielefeldt, and O. E. Curtis (2019). Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.