At a Glance
A medium-sized hawk of the woodlands. Feeding mostly on birds and small mammals, it hunts by stealth, approaching its prey through dense cover and then pouncing with a rapid, powerful flight. Of the three bird-eating Accipiter hawks, Cooper's is the mid-sized species and the most widespread as a nesting bird south of Canada.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Hawk-like Birds, Hawks and Eagles
Arroyos and Canyons, Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Found all year in much of range, but northernmost breeders move south for winter. Migrates by day. Especially in fall, migrants often concentrate along ridges and coastlines in certain weather conditions.
14-20" (36-51 cm). W. 28 (71 cm). Adults blue-gray above, pale reddish below; young brown above, striped below. Bigger than Sharp-shin with relatively bigger head, longer tail, thicker legs. Tip of tail more rounded (can be hard to judge), often shows wider white tip than Sharp-shin. Adult Cooper's may show more contrasting dark cap, and juvenile may show sharper dark streaking on white chest.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
Mature forest, open woodlands, wood edges, river groves. Nests in coniferous, deciduous, and mixed woods, typically those with tall trees and with openings or edge habitat nearby. Also found among trees along rivers through open country, and increasingly in suburbs and cities where some tall trees exist for nest sites. In winter may be in fairly open country, especially in west.
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3-5, sometimes 1-7. Pale bluish-white. Incubation is mostly by female, usually 34-36 days. Male brings food to female, and then incubates for a few minutes while female is eating. Young: Female broods young during first 2 weeks after they hatch; male brings food, gives it to female at perch near nest, and she feeds it to young. Young may climb about in nest tree after about 4 weeks, can fly at about 4-5 weeks.
Female broods young during first 2 weeks after they hatch; male brings food, gives it to female at perch near nest, and she feeds it to young. Young may climb about in nest tree after about 4 weeks, can fly at about 4-5 weeks.
Usually hunts by stealth, moving from perch to perch in dense cover, listening and watching, then putting on a burst of speed to overtake prey. Sometimes cruises low over ground, approaching from behind shrubbery to take prey by surprise.
Mostly birds and small mammals. Feeds mainly on medium-sized birds, in the size range of robins, jays, flickers, also on larger and smaller birds. Also eats many small mammals, such as chipmunks, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, mice, bats. Sometimes eats reptiles, insects.
In courtship (and occasionally at other times), both sexes may fly over territory with slow, exaggerated wingbeats. Male feeds female for up to a month before she begins laying eggs. Nest site is in tree, either deciduous or coniferous, usually 25-50' above ground. Often placed on top of some pre-existing foundation, such as old nest of large bird or squirrel, or clump of mistletoe. Nest (probably built by both sexes) is bulky structure of sticks, lined with softer material such as strips of bark.
Numbers declined in mid-20th century, possibly owing to effects of DDT and other pesticides. Some recovery since, and numbers probably stable in most areas.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Cooper's Hawk. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Cooper's Hawk
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.