Identifying Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks
One of the very common backyard identification challenges is trying to decide whether you're seeing Cooper's or Sharp-shinned Hawks.
Identifying your backyard hawks can be quite the challenge. So many times they are just a blur of a bird quickly making a pass through your feeding station in pursuit of a meal. If you do happen to get a decent look at the hawk or if it decides to perch in the open long enough for you to study it, you can likely determine which species it is. In this post, I’ll talk about two of the most common (and similar) backyard hawks, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned. One point to note is that although in general Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller than Cooper’s, this can be very hard to use as an identification tool. Males are significantly smaller than females in both species making it very hard to separate the large female Sharp-shinned from the small male Cooper’s.
As you can see on this eBird map, Cooper’s Hawk occurs throughout the continental United States. It’s a very common sight in many backyards and has adapted very nicely to hunting it’s prey at bird feeders. In general, if you have bird feeders, you’ve probably had this species in your yard.
Sharp-shinned Hawk is also a wide ranging species and as you can see on eBird, occurs farther north than Cooper’s Hawk. This species is more commonly seen during migration or hunting at bird feeders during the winter months as they do not tend to breed in suburban areas like Cooper’s Hawk does.
Have you seen either of these species in your yard?