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Cooper's Hawk

Common Name: Cooper’s Hawk.

Scientific Name: Accipiter Cooperii.

What to look for?  The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized hawk. It has the classic accipiter shape: broad, rounded wings and a noticeably long tail. In Cooper’s Hawks, the head often appears large, the shoulders broad, and the tail rounded. These beautiful birds have an upright posture. The Cooper’s Hawk has bluish-gray upper-parts with a contrasting black cap and a red eye. Its underparts are pale with dense rufous or reddish barring. They have a small bill which is strongly hooked. Juveniles are brown above and crisply streaked with brown on the upper breast, giving them a somewhat hooded look.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Cooper’s Hawks are around here all year. Look in the skies over the fields and woods north of our ponds and you will see them soaring above or into the woods. They also like to perch in the trees around our ponds and occasionally will swoop into one of the trees in our yards.

How big are they? The male Cooper’s Hawk averages 15 inches in length. And their wingspan is 32 inches. Although they are one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, they weigh in at only around 11 ounces. The larger female Cooper’s Hawk averages 16 inches in length. And their wingspan is 30 inches. Although they are one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, they weigh in at only around 18 ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Cooper’s Hawks are among the avian world’s most skillful fliers. They will tear through cluttered tree canopies in high speed pursuit of other birds. Cooper’s Hawks fly with a flap-flap-glide pattern typical of accipiters. Even when crossing large open areas they rarely flap continuously. Another flight maneuver is to fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side. The long tail and short wings of the Cooper’s Hawk gives them a distinctive flight profile that some compare to a "flying cross”.

How else do they behave? They are keen-eyed and efficient hunters and are primarily perch-hunters. They hunt by stealth, approaching its prey through dense cover and then pouncing with a rapid, powerful flight.

What’s for dinner? Small- to medium-sized birds and small mammals (squirrels and mice) make up the majority of the Cooper's Hawk's diet.

Where do they take up residence? They are widespread throughout the United States and southern Canada. Cooper’s Hawks are forest and woodland birds, but also is found our parks and neighborhoods if there are trees around.

When and where do they breed and nest? Cooper's Hawks use a wide range of nesting habitats, including those in urban areas. In this species, the male does the nest-building, then leaves most of the incubation and chick care to the female. Cooper’s Hawks build nests in pines, oaks, Douglas-firs, beeches, spruces, and other tree species. Nests are typically 25-50 feet high, often about two-thirds of the way up the tree in a crotch or on a horizontal branch. Cooper’s Hawks are monogamous, and many pairs mate for life. Pairs begin breeding as early as March and raise one brood per breeding season. Male feeds female for up to a month before she begins laying eggs.

Where do they migrate? Cooper's hawks migrate yearly between their summer breeding grounds and their southern winter range. Most Cooper’s Hawks from Canada and northern U.S. migrate south for the winter (sound familiar?), with some ranging as far south as Mexico and Central America. Those hawks from across the rest of the North America typically stay put and may not migrate. When they do migrate, Cooper’s Hawks migrate by day.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Cooper's Hawk has seen stable populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 1 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Outside of the breeding season, Cooper’s Hawks tend to be silent. The most common call is a loud, grating “cak-cak-cak”, generally in defense of the nest. Here is a link to the sounds of the Cooper's Hawk.

Interesting Facts About the Cooper's Hawk:

  • Dashing through tree branches 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.

  • Once thought averse to towns and cities, Cooper’s Hawks are now fairly common urban and suburban birds with some studies showing their numbers are actually higher in towns than in their natural habitat of forests.

  • The Cooper's Hawk was removed from the Illinois State Endangered Species List in 1996 after nearly twenty years on that list.

  • Partners in Flight estimates a breeding population of 700,000.

  • The oldest recorded Cooper's Hawk was approximately 20 years old.

For more information on Cooper's Hawk and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, the Audubon Society, National Geographic and the American Bird Conservancy. And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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