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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Cooper's Hawk

Accipiter cooperii ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Among the bird world’s most skillful fliers, Cooper’s Hawks are common woodland hawks that tear through cluttered tree canopies in high speed pursuit of other birds. You’re most likely to see one prowling above a forest edge or field using just a few stiff wingbeats followed by a glide. With their smaller lookalike, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawks make for famously tricky identifications. Both species are sometimes unwanted guests at bird feeders, looking for an easy meal (but not one of sunflower seeds).

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Keys to identification Help

Hawks
Hawks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A medium-sized hawk with the classic accipiter shape: broad, rounded wings and a very long tail. In Cooper’s Hawks, the head often appears large, the shoulders broad, and the tail rounded.

  • Color Pattern

    Adults are steely blue-gray above with warm reddish bars on the underparts and thick dark bands on the tail. Juveniles are brown above and crisply streaked with brown on the upper breast, giving them a somewhat hooded look compared with young Sharp-shinned Hawks' more diffuse streaking.

  • Behavior

    Look for Cooper’s Hawks to fly with a flap-flap-glide pattern typical of accipiters. Even when crossing large open areas they rarely flap continuously. Another attack maneuver is to fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side.

  • Habitat

    Wooded habitats from deep forests to leafy subdivisions and backyards.

Range Map Help

Cooper
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Thin streaks on breast
    • Rounded tail
    • Banded tail, with broad white terminal tail band
    • Yellow Eye
    • © William Jobes , Pennsylvania, January 2009
  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Pale nape with thin streaking
    • Brown back with white spots
    • © claire06010 , Bristol, Connecticut, January 2008
  • Adult

    Cooper's Hawk

    Adult
    • Red eye
    • Slate gray back
    • dark gray "cap"
    • Long, thin, rounded, banded tail
    • © kjm, October 2008
  • Adult

    Cooper's Hawk

    Adult
    • Long, thin, rounded, banded tail
    • White undertail coverts
    • Fine, reddish barring
    • Red eye
    • © ashockenberry , Ontario, Canada, September 2008
  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Long, narrow, rounded tail
    • Large head extends well beyond bend in wing
    • Relatively broad, rounded wings
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, October 2008
  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Relatively broad, rounded wings
    • Thin streaks on breast
    • Large head extends well beyond bend in wing
    • Long, thin, rounded, banded tail
    • © Gerry Dewaghe , October 2008
  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Rusty color on face and nape
    • Dark brown back
    • © maia bird , Rehoboth, Massachusetts, December 2008
  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Dark brown back
    • Large white spots on back
    • Long, thin tail, banded
    • White Supercilium
    • © kjm, January 2009
  • Adult

    Cooper's Hawk

    Adult
    • Red eye
    • Slate gray back
    • dark gray "cap"
    • Long, thin, rounded, banded tail
    • © Virginia Kadow, September 2008

Similar Species

  • Immature

    Sharp-shinned Hawk

    Immature
    • Smaller overall, thinner legs
    • Tail more square, all tail feathers tend to be same length
    • Small head
    • © Jeff Loomis, Pennsylvania, November 2008
  • Adult

    Sharp-shinned Hawk

    Adult
    • Similar to adult Cooper's Hawk
    • Small head and bill, thin legs
    • Orange and white barred breast, slate gray back, nape, and cap
    • Smaller size (but much overlap)
    • © Larry Sarris, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, December 2008
  • Adult

    Sharp-shinned Hawk

    Adult
    • Similar to adult Cooper's Hawk
    • Small head and bill, dark nape
    • Tail more square, all tail feathers tend to be same length
    • Thin legs
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, February 2009
  • Adult

    Sharp-shinned Hawk

    Adult
    • Similar to adult Cooper's Hawk
    • Small head and bill, dark nape
    • Tail more square, all tail feathers tend to be same length
    • Smaller size (but much overlap)
    • © Seth Reams, Portland, Oregon, December 2008
  • Immature

    Sharp-shinned Hawk

    Immature
    • Similar to immature Cooper's Hawk
    • Small head and bill, thin legs
    • Tail more square, all tail feathers tend to be same length
    • Coarser dark streaking on breast
    • © Jana Thompson, Spearfish, South Dakota, January 2009
  • Immature

    Red-tailed Hawk

    Immature
    • Fairly short, brownish tail
    • Dark head, pale chest, variably dark streaked belly band
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, December 2005
  • Adult

    Red-tailed Hawk

    Adult
    • Fairly short, rufous tail
    • Dark head, pale chest, variably dark streaked belly band
    • © Steve Neitzel, Gulf Shores, Alabama, December 2007
  • Immature

    Northern Goshawk

    Immature
    • Similar to immature Cooper's Hawk
    • Brown back with white mottling
    • Long, black and brown banded tail with uneven bands
    • White eyebrow
    • Bulkier, shaped more like Buteo hawks
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, January 2009
  • Immature

    Northern Goshawk

    Immature
    • Similar to immature Cooper's Hawk
    • Brown back with white mottling
    • Long, black and brown banded tail with uneven bands
    • White eyebrow
    • Buffy breast with coarse brown streaking
    • Bulkier, shaped more like Buteo hawks
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, January 2009
  • Adult female

    Northern Harrier

    Adult female
    • Similar to immature Cooper's Hawk
    • Flat face with pale collar
    • Streaked nape and breast
    • Very long wings and tail
    • © Kevin Bolton, New Jersey, February 2009
  • Adult female

    Northern Harrier

    Adult female
    • Dark head, streaked or orangish underparts
    • Flat face with pale collar
    • Long wings, very long tail
    • Bold white rump
    • © William Jobes, Pennsylvania, January 2009
  • Adult female

    Northern Harrier

    Adult female
    • Bold white rump
    • Long wings, long dark tail with buff bands
    • Dark head, streaked or orangish underparts
    • © David McNicholas, New Jersey, September 2007
  • Adult female

    Merlin

    Adult female
    • Small and petite
    • Pale eyebrow and indistinct dark mustache
    • Pale breast with dark streaking
    • Long wings, black and gray barred tail
    • © Bob Devlin , New Jersey, November 2008
  • Immature

    Peregrine Falcon

    Immature
    • Dark face pattern and moustache, light forms with pale forehead
    • Streaked breast
    • Dark brown back
    • Very long wings
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, October 2008
  • Adult

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult
    • Similar to adult Cooper's Hawk
    • Fairly short, black tail with white bars
    • Orange and white barred breast and belly
    • Brown back with white mottling
    • White barred wings
    • © Lew Scharpf, Auburn, Alabama, January 2009
  • Adult

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult
    • Similar to adult Cooper's Hawk
    • Fairly short, black tail with white bars
    • Orange and white barred breast and belly
    • White barred wings
    • Often shows rufous shoulder mark
    • Paler face with darker nape
    • © tsiya, Florida, November 2007
  • Immature

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Immature
    • Similar to immature Cooper's Hawk
    • Brown back with white mottling
    • Fairly short, dark tail with narrow brown bands
    • © monteverde2000, Rhode Island, February 2008
  • Adult

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult
    • Fairly short, black tail with thin white bars
    • Long, black and white barred wings
    • © Ken Schneider, Florida, February 2009
  • Adult

    Broad-winged Hawk

    Adult
    • Pale underwings with black border
    • Dark brown head and chest, pale belly
    • Fairly short, dark tail with one thick white band
    • © Byard Miller, Newmarket, New Hampshire, June 2008
  • Adult

    Red-shouldered Hawk

    Adult
    • Fairly short black tail with white bands
    • Orangish shoulders (may not be obvious)
    • Boldy barred undersides to primaries
    • © Lorcan Keating, San Francisco, California, October 2008

Similar Species

Separating Sharp-shinned Hawks from Cooper's Hawks is one of the classic birding challenges. The birds look very similar and can be similarly sized. Cooper's Hawks have a larger head that juts farther out ahead of the wings compared with Sharp-shinned's pinhead. Cooper's have "hackles" that are sometimes raised, giving them a fierce look versus Sharp-shinned's more timid, round head. Adults have a pale nape, making them look like they're wearing a dark cap. Juvenile Cooper's Hawks are more finely streaked below than Sharp-shinned. When perched, look for Cooper's Hawk's thicker legs and big feet. Northern Goshawks are much larger than Cooper's Hawks. Adult goshawks are all gray with a strong white eyestripe, with longer wings and a shorter tail. A less distinct eyestripe in juvenile goshawks still helps tell them from juvenile Cooper's Hawks, as do the thick streaks against a buffy background on the underparts, and an irregularly barred tail. Buteos such as the Broad-winged Hawk have longer wings and shorter tails, while falcons such as the peregrine have sharply pointed wings.

Regional Differences

Cooper’s Hawks from western North America are substantially smaller (weighing around one-fifth less) than birds in the East.

Backyard Tips

If you put out seed for birds in your backyard, there’s a chance you’ll also attract the attention of a Cooper’s Hawk. While catching smaller birds is just doing what comes naturally for a Cooper’s Hawk, many of us would prefer not to share the responsibility for the deaths. If a Cooper’s Hawk takes up residence in your yard, you can take your feeders down for a few days and the hawk will move on.

Find This Bird

Finding a Cooper’s Hawk is typically a matter of keeping your eyes peeled – they’re common but stealthy, and smaller than other common hawks like the red-tailed, so your eye might skip over them in flight. Look for the flap-flap-glide flight style and remarkably long tail to zero in on these birds in an instant. During migration, hawkwatches on ridgetops in both East and West are great places to see lots of Cooper's Hawks.

Get Involved

Keep track of your Cooper's Hawk sightings online with eBird for your personal records – and for the birding community

Watch your feeders this winter and report your bird counts to Project FeederWatch

Learn more about bird photography in our Building Skills section. Then contribute your images to the Birdshare flickr site, which helps supply the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's websites with photos, including All About Birds.

You Might Also Like

Behavior—like the Cooper's Hawk's flap-flap-glide flight style—is indispensable in identifying birds. Watch our Inside Birding video series to learn how—right from your computer.

Project Feederwatch's Tricky IDs comparison page: Sharp-shinned vs. Cooper's Hawks

More tips on identification from the Great Backyard Bird Count

Q&A: Hawks at Feeders

Explore sounds and video of Cooper's Hawks from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Silent Alert: An appreciation of the Cooper's Hawk. Story and photos in Living Bird magazine.