The Hawk In My Yard

 

At Wild Bird Habitat we receive quite a few reports from people seeing hawks around their bird feeders and occasionally, if they do not actually witnessing the hawk catching a bird, they will find a pile of feathers on the ground, nothing else.Cooper's Hawk During the summer months it is most likely a Cooper’s hawk, but between about mid-October and early May it may be a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest North American hawk. The Cooper is a permanent resident raptor while the Sharp-shin is a winter migrant.

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned are closely related and so similar that it can make identification between the two a little difficult. They both prey on birds relying on an ambush strategy. They often lurk around the corner of a building or dense shrubbery then launch their attack.  Their ranges overlap across most of North America, with the Coopers Hawk a permanent resident across most of the 48 states while the Sharp-shinned hawk breeds primarily in the northern Boreal Forests and visits us during the winter months.

While the Cooper’s hawk is considerably larger, 14” to 18” with a wingspan of up to 35”, the Sharp-shinned Hawk smaller averaging 9” to 13” with a wingspan that can approach 22”. As with most raptors the females are the larger of the two genders. In fact a large female Sharp-shinned hawk can appear to be the same size as a male Cooper’s hawk.

But in order to make a positive identification between these two hawks that are common backyard visitors you must look at the more identifying features know as field marks. One of the most distinguishing features is the tail. The end of a Sharp-shinned hawk’s tail is square and has a thin white tip. The outer feathers are slightly longer. The Cooper’s hawk on the other hand has a more rounded tail with a larger white tip.

Another significant clue is the dark grey coloration on the top of the head of a Sharp-shinned Hawk that extending down the back of the neck joining the dark coloration on its back. The Cooper’s hawk has more of a dark grey “cap”. The dark grey coloration on the top of the head is interrupted by lighter feathers on the back of the neck, so that the bird looks like it has a cap of grey. One way to remember this is that “a Coop has a cap.” Also look at the legs. The Sharp-shinned hawk has thin pencil like legs while the Cooper’s legs are thick.

While it may be upsetting watching these raptors hunting birds at your feeders and at times successfully catching one, it is their primary means of survival and they will only take what they need. They do not kill other birds needlessly. I often try to explain to a customer that this is a predator/prey relationship that takes place across the world between species.  The fact that this transpires in ones backyard is an opportunity to witness a part of nature seldom seen. In fact in my backyard we have learned to tolerate each other which have led to some very unique experiences between me and the hawks that at times hunt near my bird feeders.At Wild Bird Habitat we receive quite a few reports from people seeing hawks around theirbird feeders and occasionally, if they do not actually witnessing the hawk catching a bird, they will find a pile of feathers on the ground, nothing else. During the summer months it is most likely a Cooper’s hawk, but between about mid-October and early May it may be a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest North American hawk. The Cooper is a permanent resident raptor while the Sharp-shin is a winter migrant.

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned are closely related and so similar that it can make identification between the two a little difficult. They both prey on birds relying on an ambush strategy. They often lurk around the corner of a building or dense shrubbery then launch their attack.  Their ranges overlap across most of North America, with the Coopers Hawk a permanent resident across most of the 48 states while the Sharp-shinned hawk breeds primarily in the northern Boreal Forests and visits us during the winter months.

While the Cooper’s hawk is considerably larger, 14” to 18” with a wingspan of up to 35”, the Sharp-shinned Hawk smaller averaging 9” to 13” with a wingspan that can approach 22”. As with most raptors the females are the larger of the two genders. In fact a large female Sharp-shinned hawk can appear to be the same size as a male Cooper’s hawk.

But in order to make a positive identification between these two hawks that are common backyard visitors you must look at the more identifying features know as field marks. One of the most distinguishing features is the tail. The end of a Sharp-shinned hawk’s tail is square and has a thin white tip. The outer feathers are slightly longer. The Cooper’s hawk on the other hand has a more rounded tail with a larger white tip.

Another significant clue is the dark grey coloration on the top of the head of a Sharp-shinned Hawk that extending down the back of the neck joining the dark coloration on its back. The Cooper’s hawk has more of a dark grey “cap”. The dark grey coloration on the top of the head is interrupted by lighter feathers on the back of the neck, so that the bird looks like it has a cap of grey. One way to remember this is that “a Coop has a cap.” Also look at the legs. The Sharp-shinned hawk has thin pencil like legs while the Cooper’s legs are thick.

While it may be upsetting watching these raptors hunting birds at your feeders and at times successfully catching one, it is their primary means of survival and they will only take what they need. They do not kill other birds needlessly. I often try to explain to a customer that this is a predator/prey relationship that takes place across the world between species.  The fact that this transpires in ones backyard is an opportunity to witness a part of nature seldom seen. In fact in my backyard we have learned to tolerate each other which have led to some very unique experiences between me and the hawks that at times hunt near my bird feeders.

The Wild Bird Habitat Stores

Independent Backyard Bird Feeding Center Since 1993

South Lincoln:
Alamo Plaza / 56th & Hwy 2
Lincoln, Nebraska 68516
(402)-420-2553

 

North Lincoln:
4900 Dudley Street
Lincoln, NE 68504
(402)-464-4055

 

 

© Wild Bird Habitat Stores 2018