Bird of the Week: Cooper’s Hawk!

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

Species: Cooper’s Hawk, or Accipiter cooperii

Family: Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

Star sign: Cancer

Rating: 11/10

Ideal Date: People watching from the comfort of a high-up tree branch.

This week’s bird is one of Reed’s apex predators: Cooper’s Hawk. This rakish raptor is one of the most common hawks in the U.S. Even if you’re not used to seeing them around, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Cooper’s Hawks are lovable rogues and masters of stealth, and in spite of their striking appearance, they’re difficult to spot unless they want to be spotted—and they only want to be spotted when they attack.

Cooper’s Hawk is an accipiter, a genus of hawks recognizable for their long tails; short, rounded wings; and guerilla warfare tactics. Instead of soaring high in the air while hunting for prey (a behavior typical of buteos, the genus of hawk of which the iconic Red-Tailed hawk is a member), the lithe and agile accipiter prefers to hide in trees, lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. Cooper’s Hawk is the quintessential American accipiter thanks to how well it has adapted to suburban life. It haunts bird feeders, then flies fast and low to the ground to scoop up medium-sized birds and squeeze them to death with its spindly yellow talons. How brutal!

These lanky lads prefer to live in wooded or suburban habitats, which means Reed’s campus is a perfect hunting ground. They can be visually identified by their slate grey backs, mottled orange and white stomachs, delicate yellow talons, and bright red eyes. They’re about the size of a crow but have longer tails and a noticeable flap-flap-glide pattern to their flight. But since Cooper’s Hawk is a sly and sneaky friend, unless you’re keeping a sharp eye out—or one decides to get dinner within eyeshot—you’re more likely to hear their call, which distinctly resembles the sound of a cackling monkey. That said, if you do see Cooper’s Hawk pop out from the tree line and snatch up an unsuspecting Robin, be grateful that you get to appreciate such an awesome predator without having to worry about it eating you.

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Gary Granger
Gary Granger
2 years ago

Thank you again for a splendid description of one of Reed’s resident birds. I frequently see one from my office window in various hunting modes not ofter associated with hawks. For example, I have seen one dive into the large bush a few feet from my window and scramble among the foliage attempting to snatch a song bird hiding inside. I’ve not seen it catch a bird there up to this point, but the hawk appears healthy, so it obviously meets with success often enough.

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