Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii


Cooper’s Hawks are very similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, but are larger and therefore hunt larger animals. This hawk actively hunts pigeons, squirrels, small ducks, starlings, robins and many other similarly sized birds. They are one of the most common city hawks in Vancouver and can be seen all year round in the Lower Mainland.

Cooper’s Hawks breed from half way up Saskatchewan and Manitoba south to Northern Mexico and from coast to coast. They winter as far north as southern Canada to Panama.


General: Cooper’s Hawks look lanky in flight with a long tail and legs. They have a white tip to each tail feather giving them a fairly broad white terminal band. In flight they hold their head farther forward and their carpal joint (elbows) farther back so that their head protrudes. Their tails are more rounded than Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Adult: Adults are blue backed, with rusty red barring on breast and belly. They have a dark cap with a bright red or orange eye and dark blue bands on their bands and tail. The top of their head is darker and flatter than Sharp-shinned Hawks on average and forms a peak at the back.

Immature: Immature individuals are brown backed with thin brown streaking on their breasts. They have dark brown bands on their tail and a yellowish iris.

Similar Species: Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller and have a squarer tail with a thinner, less obvious tip to each tail feather. They also hold their carpal joints farther forward and heads farther back than Cooper’s Hawks while in flight and have sharper more rapid wing beats. They also have much thinner legs.

Behavior: Cooper’s Hawks use surprise and short bursts of speed to catch their pray. They hunt from perches by staying hidden in large trees and using their short wings to sneak through thick wooded areas. They can however be seen soaring during migration like most other hawks.

Habitat: Cooper’s Hawks can be found in most habitats throughout their range, including city parks and back yards.


The Coopers Hawk may have been the most ubiquitous hawk in the forests of the New World for early settlers thus becoming known as the “Chicken Hawk”.
The bird’s official name honours zoologist William Cooper, who lived from 1798 to 1864 and first described this exclusively New World species.
The Coopers Hawk does not tolerate smaller, competitive Sharp-shinned Hawk within same woodland.
Nest building is done mainly by the male while the female watches, occasionally chattering her approval or adding to the nest. Placed on horizontal branches against the trunk of a conifer, or in a crotch of a dense deciduous tree, the nest is a little over 2ft wide and quite flat topped 10-60ft high. The bowl, which holds 3-6 bluish eggs, is lined with flakes of bark.

Conservation Status: (Least Concern)

Because of their adaptability, Cooper’s Hawks have recovered from their prosecution for preying on Poultry, which is now know to be almost non existent, and the use of DDT and other pesticides. These hawks are thriving on the large populations of European Starlings, American Robins and Rock Pigeons. One of the only threats to these birds is the loss of breeding habitat through deforestation.
Capture Rates

The Cooper's Hawk is a short distance migrant, moving south in the winter as suggested by the zero capture rate (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) from November to April. The peak capture rate from August through October corresponds to juvenile dispersal and the start of migration indicating that Colony Farm may be an important stop-over for these birds to feed.


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