Watchable Wildlife: Cooper’s Hawk


The Cooper’s hawk is a crow-sized woodland raptor that zips through wooded areas in hot pursuit of other birds. There’s a chance backyard bird feeders will attract this bird to your backyard for an easy meal, but not one of sunflower seeds!

What do they look like?

They are a medium-sized hawk with broad, rounded wings and a long tail. 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. Female Cooper’s hawks are about one-third larger than males.

Where can I see them in Arkansas?

Cooper’s hawks can be spotted statewide in Arkansas wherever there are forests and woodlands. Cooper’s hawks are now fairly common in urban and suburban areas and are a regular sight in parks, quiet neighborhoods, over fields, at backyard feeders, and even along busy streets if there are trees around.

How do they behave?

They fly with a flap-flap-glide pattern typical of this family of hawks. They sometimes fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side. Although they are among the bird world’s most skillful fliers, dashing through vegetation to catch birds is a dangerous lifestyle. In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially the furcula or wishbone.

What do they eat?

Cooper’s hawks mainly eat birds. Small birds are safer around Cooper’s hawks than medium-sized birds: studies list European starlings, mourning doves, and rock pigeons as common targets along with American robins, blue jays, and northern flicker. They sometimes rob nests and also eat chipmunks, mice, squirrels, and bats. A Cooper’s hawk captures a bird with its feet and kills it by repeated squeezing.

What should I do if a Cooper’s hawk is dining on birds at my backyard feeder?

Either enjoy the show!  — Cooper’s hawks are amazing predators and catching smaller birds is what comes naturally to them-or, take your feeders down for a few days and the hawk will move on.

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