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Cooper's Hawk

(Accipiter cooperii)
Banded December, 1998 Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The Cooper's Hawk, is a crow sized accipiter very similar to the
smaller, robin or pigeon sized Sharp-shinned Hawk. It was named by Charles Bonaparte in 1828 after William Cooper, who collected the specimens that were used to describe the species.

A bird of mixed forests and open woodlands, they are found across the USA, Mexico and southern Canada through Central America to Costa Rica. This raptor is the scourage of the backyard bird feeding enthusiast, especially in winter months, when they flash through backyards to snatch an unwary songbird from a feeding station. They can be a problem at a banding station as well when they get caught while attempting to take songbirds caught in nets or traps, as this individual did.


The Cooper's Hawk is from 14 to 21 inches long, with a wingspan of from 27 to 36 inches. The male, smaller than the female, is about the same size as the female Sharp-shinned Hawk.



Cooper's Hawk
Figure 1 - Cooper's Hawk


Cooper's Hawk
Figure 2 - Cooper's Hawk


The eyes of the Cooper's Hawk are yellow to deep red. The crown is black. The hooked bill is well adapted to tearing the flesh of its favorite prey such as chipmunks, squirrels and other small mammals, and various bird species including starlings, flickers, robins and Mourning Doves.

The back is blue gray, and the tail, crossed by several dark bands, has a distinct white band at its tip.

Cooper's Hawk
Figure 3 - Cooper's Hawk


Cooper's Hawk
Figure 4 - Cooper's Hawk


The eyes of this hawk, like most predatory birds, face forward, giving it good depth perception for hunting and catching prey while flying at high speeds.



The business end of a raptor is its powerful feet and talons. These long, needle sharp weapons are well adapted to grasping prey, and can inflict a nasty wound to a careless handler.

Cooper's Hawk Talons
Figure 5 - Cooper's Hawk Talons


Cooper's Hawk Underwing
Figure 6 - Cooper's Hawk Underwing


The white breast and belly are crossed by reddish bars.

Nesting Behavior

The male Cooper's Hawk, sometimes assisted by the female, builds a platform nest of sticks and twigs from 20 to 60 feet above ground level in a tree located in a wooded area. From 4 to 6 eggs, incubated by the female, hatch in about 5 weeks. During this time, the male brings food to the female. After the eggs hatch, both parents tend the young who leave the nest after four to five weeks. Parents continue to provide food until the young become independent at about 8 weeks.

Banding Recoveries

The Bird Banding Lab web site reports that between 1955 and 1997, a total of 51,650 Cooper's Hawks were banded. Of these, 1,465 have been recovered, a recovery rate of 2.84%. Banding studies show that Cooper's Hawks can live more than 7 years in the wild. They are migratory but winter across most of the USA.

If you should recover a banded bird, please report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Economic Importance and Conservation Status

Cooper's Hawk populations are recovering after suffering serious
declines in the 1940’s and 1950’s as a result of pesticide impact on reproductive success. They can be a problem around poultry farms where they may help themselves to unwary chickens, but by preying on wild birds, and rodents, they help keep populations of wild birds and rodents in check.


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