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Cooper's Hawk

Accipiter cooperii

Length: 15 - 20 inches Wingspan: 28 - 34 inches Seasonality: Winter / All Seasons
ID Keys: Reddish barring on underparts, dark bars on white tail, dark head cap

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperiiCooper's Hawks are a medium sized hawk of the forested lands, usually found in and around forests and forest edges at all seasons. Although they generally hunt wild birds and small mammals, the Cooper's Hawk also has the somewhat unfair moniker of "Chicken Hawk" for its supposed preference for farm poultry.  They have adapted very well to an increasing human footprint on the landscape, as they can now often be found around city parks and suburban areas, provided adequate nesting and foraging opportunities are available. "Foraging opportunities" now increasingly also means preying at birds at suburban bird feeders.

In South Dakota, Cooper's Hawks are found year-round, with larger numbers during the summer breeding season. In migration and in winter, both Cooper's Hawks and their close cousin the Sharp-shinned Hawk can be found in the state, leading to potential identification challenges as the two are very similar in appearance. See identification tips below for clues to differentiate Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Habitat:

Cooper's Hawks prefer mixed forest when nesting, but can be found in and around any forest type in winter.  They generally avoid open areas without trees nearby, although they will often hunt in fairly open landscapes. In South Dakota, they can be found in and around even small patches of trees, with shelterbelts and farmsteads often offering enough tree cover for a Cooper's Hawk presence.

Diet:

Mostly birds and small mammals, occasionally reptiles, fish, and insects. They will prey on larger birds than will their cousins the Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Behavior:

Hunts from a perch, waiting for prey to come within range, and then moving swiftly to catch it.  Very acrobatic and maneuverable in the chase. 

Nesting:

April and May.  The nest of a Cooper's Hawk is a large bowl built of sticks, lined with softer vegetative material.  The female usually lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and she does most of the incubation while the male brings her food.  When the eggs hatch, the male initially brings food while the female stays with the young.  After a couple of weeks, both parents help bring food to the young.  The young fledge after about a month.

Song:

Not very vocal outside of the breeding season. The most commonly heard call is a harsh kak-kak-kak-kak-kak.

1Click here to hear the call of a Cooper's Hawk

2Click here to hear the vocalizations around a nest as an adult brings food to the young and female

Migration:

Birds in northern part of range (northern U.S. and southern Canada) migrate south in the fall. Generally found in all seasons in other parts of its range.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Cooper's Hawk sightings

Similar Species:

One of the more identification challenges for a birder in North America is differentiating between a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper's Hawk.  Both are very similar in appearance, although there are identification keys that allow identification, if seen well.  A juvenile Northern Goshawk could also be mistaken for a Cooper's Hawk. Specific identification keys (and comparison to a Sharp-shinned Hawk) are as follows:

Sharp-shinned HawkJuvenile Northern Goshawk also could be mistaken for a Cooper's Hawk

Conservation Status:

After a severe drop in numbers by 1970, numbers have been increasing.  They have even become more common as breeders in city parks and other urban settings with large trees.  The IUCN lists the Cooper's Hawk as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

1) BirdWeb - Cooper's Hawk

2) Audubon Guide - Cooper's Hawk

3) WhatBird - Cooper's Hawk

Photo Information:

December 2016 - Brandon, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Cooper's Hawk photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Paul Marvin. Recorded in San Diego, California on July 19th, 2020. Original recording and information available on xeno canto.

2Richard Webster. Recorded in Portal, Arizona on May 5th, 2016. Original recording and information available on xeno canto.

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Cooper's Hawk - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and summer resident statewide.  Rare winter resident.

Additional Cooper's Hawk Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Cooper's Hawk 1 - Accipiter cooperiiCooper's Hawk 2 - Accipiter cooperiiCooper's Hawk 3 - Accipiter cooperiiCooper's Hawk 4 - Accipiter cooperiiCooper's Hawk 5 - Accipiter cooperiiCooper's Hawk 6- Accipiter cooperii