Hawk Circling Your Feeders? It's Likely A Cooper's Hawk

Feeding the birds can be a great way to bond with nature and learn your local birds. One of the most magical things about nature is that everything is connected.

A Cooper's hawk. (Photo via Shutterstock)

When you put out seed with the intention of feeding songbirds and woodpeckers you may also be feeding other animals. Tracking down an easy meal, mammals like squirrels, raccoons and even opossums may visit your bird feeders. They do not get the memo that the feeder is a birds-only club.


On the flip side, there is one animal that is excited to see so many birds hanging out in one place. The Cooper’s hawk is also a common sight at feeders, but they are not there for the seed. They are actually there for the birds themselves!


Cooper’s hawks are about the size of a crow. They have rusty orange barring on their bellies with bluish-gray backs and wings. Their heads have a black cap. These hawks also have rounded tails that are banded with black and gray. One tricky thing is they have a lookalike cousin, the sharp-shinned hawk. Cooper’s hawks are chunkier than sharp-shinned hawks and have bigger heads and thicker legs. Sharp-shinned hawks tend to have a square-edged tail versus the rounded C shape of the Cooper’s hawk.


A Cooper's hawk. (Photo via Shutterstock)

These are not the hawks you see on telephone poles; those are the bigger red-tailed hawks. Instead, Cooper’s hawks call the woodlands their home. It can be deep forested woodlands or even neighborhoods with big trees. Bird-feeding areas with trees nearby are perfect restaurants for these hawks. They eat mainly birds, specializing in medium-sized birds such as robins, mourning doves and European starlings.


Keep learning about Cooper’s hawks with these fun fact:


  • Cooper’s hawks were named after William Cooper, who helped study these birds by collecting specimens.

  • They have long tails that can act like rudders when flying. This allows them to have quick reflexes, dodging trees in the forests.

  • Their eyes can be yellow, deep red or somewhere in between. Like other hawks, their eyes are forward facing so they have good depth perception while hunting prey.

  • Cooper’s hawks have been reported flying at 50 miles per hour. Their top speeds are hard to measure because most of the time they are weaving through thick vegetation.

  • Male Cooper’s hawks build the nests, looking for a supported fork in the branches or trunk of a tree. The nests are built from sticks and twigs, and they are usually 25 feet to 50 feet above the ground. Sometimes they are even built on top of old squirrel’s nests.


Now you know what to look for when all the birds suddenly freeze up at your feeders! Cooper’s hawks are a natural part of the food web and will most likely visit your backyard for some takeout meals.


If you have a resident hawk sticking around and you prefer not to have feathers flying everywhere, consider taking your feeders down for a few days. Eventually the hawk will find another place to hunt. This tip works for mammal guests like raccoons and opossums too.

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