Cooper's Hawk

Phylum: Chordata
Sub-phylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Accipiter
Species: cooperii

What's in a name?

Cooper's Hawk derives its name from William Cooper, the naturalist to first describe and collect specimens of the species. The genus Accipiter specifically refers to a group of birds who all have relatively short wings and long tails, as evidenced in the next section.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a bird.

The young Cooper's Hawk enters the world a little white fuzzball with white legs and a black-tipped beak. Immature, or juvenile, birds have slightly more graceful plumage that can still be used to differentiate them from adults. Juveniles have the black cap, yellow legs, and red or orange eyes of adults, but the feathers on their back are brown, and they have a light underside with brown barring on the chest. The tail is alternately barred light and dark, with a white tip on the end of the tail. Adults retain the coloration of the tail, but change the back feathers to a dark blue-gray or slate color. The light underside features reddish or rusty-colored barring. Though coloration does not vary among the sexes, females tend to be larger than their mates. Adult Cooper's Hawks are often confused with a close relative, the sharp-shinned hawk. Though the coloration is similar, the Cooper's Hawk is larger and leaner, with a longer tail and a larger head.

This bird has an average body length of about 15-20 inches (or 39-50 cm if you're communist), a wingspan of 24-35 in (39-50 cm) and a weight of about 8.83-21.07 ounces (250-597 g). All told, it's roughly the size of a crow. The tail is relatively long compared to the short wings, and the head is fairly large in proportion to the body. This can especially be noted when the bird is in flight.

Making appearances in...

Cooper's Hawk is extant throughout most of the United States. When it's living in the US area, populations are generally non-migratory. Those populations that do migrate are found in Southern Canada during the breeding season (generally early April until late May) and then migrate south to Mexico, and possibly farther south into parts of Central America. Birds are found in forest habitats, namely deciduous and/or mixed forests, but are also found in coniferous forests and more recently, urban jungles.

The average Cooper's Hawk life cycle proceeds as follows:

  • Birds make their livings chasing other avians, especially smaller birds such as songbirds, through the habitat. Cooper's Hawks are specially adapted to this, with their long tails and relatively short wings that allow quick maneuvering and sudden drops when in pursuit. Along with birds, these raptors will also eat small mammals and, if the environment is right, small reptiles. Once captured, prey meets a rather excruciating end. Instead of just severing the necks of their victims, Cooper's Hawks will flex their talons until they either puncture all the vital organs or squish them to death. Cooper's Hawks have also been known to carry quarry to water sources, holding their captures under water until they cease struggling. Though they are skilled at following fleeing prey, they will often use cover to sneak up on prey. Birds in urban areas have been known to prey on birds at bird feeders in people's yards.

  • After about two years of eating and surviving, birds become sexually mature. Some particularly precocious gits will reach sexual maturity in only one year. Generally solitary, males and females will form a (usually) monogamous pair to mate. The courtship rituals are not well documented, but sometime after deciding to hook up, the pair will build a nest. This nest is generally a platform-shaped construction of twigs, featuring a central cup lined with tree bark, set in the crotch of major tree limbs. Occasionally, the birds build over, or perhaps even use, an old crow or squirrel's nest. They will generally not reuse the same nest year after year, but will build nests in the same general area.
  • Once everything has settled down, the female will lay a clutch of about 4-5 bluish-white eggs. Females are not determinate layers; if some tragedy befalls the first clutch, females will often replace it with another, hopefully luckier, set of eggs. These eggs are incubated for about 32-36 days. The chicks hatch semi-altricial, and need to be fed and cared for by their parents. The entire time the mother is incubating, the father brings food back to the nest. He doesn't slow his pace now, though the female can provide some help for their growing family. Around 27-34 days of age, the little chickies fledge. However, they haven't yet flown the coop for good. They rely on their parents for food and care for another 10 days or so before finally deciding to go it alone. At this point, the parents do not lay another clutch, probably due to the fact that they're exhausted and it's just about time to head out to the beach house, or make other autumnal preparations. The average lifespan of the birds might be around 7 years, with the oldest recorded bird being 10 years of age. However, this information is sketchy at best.
  • Status

    The current status of Cooper's Hawks can probably best be described as “eh”. In some places, they are considered endangered or protected. In other areas, they are thriving, or at the very least, regaining numbers not seen since before the ravages of agriculture. Though there are many “chicken hawks”, the Cooper's Hawk was hunted down by farmers for their poultry predilection. Their main downfall, however, was habitat loss and the introduction of DDT into the environment. As with so many other cases, the pesticide was blamed for weakening eggshells and therefore destroying reproductive success. As DDT has been phased out and birds have learned to adapt to urban environments, they have enjoyed a recent upswing in population size.

    Other Cooper's Hawks:

    • Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant
      Located at 15690 South Harlem Park Avenue in Orland Park, Illinois, Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant was founded by Tim and Dana McEnery in 2001. This restaurant/winery boasts multiple awards for the wines produced and served at their establishment. The winery produces over 50,000 gallons of wine each year, purchasing grapes from successful vineyards with high-quality yields rather than relying on its own crop. Currently, they offer 38 varieties of wine for sale, with a restaurant menu specifically created to compliment their bibulous selection. With appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pasta, seafood, meat dishes, and dessert, ranging from $3.49 to $29.99, they offer plates for nearly every palate. What's more, if the wine variety and differentiations don't blow you away--or you're just a connoisseur--they offer tasting classes as well as a (free) wine club. I'm not really sure how much this has to do with Cooper's Hawk, but if you're in the area stop by and ask.

    • Cooper's Hawk Golf Course
      A “top new public golf facility” in Melbourne, Arkansas, the Cooper's Hawk Golf Course offers 7,011 yards of zoysia fairways, bent grass greens, water hazards, bunkers, and natural nature. They have weekly discounts ($25 Monday-Thursday) as well as a fully-stocked pro shop. If none of that interests you, they also have a full bar and grill. Again, this may not have a lot to do with true Cooper's Hawks, but you can probably beat that out of them with your 3 iron.