One of the toughest raptor distinctions for me is Cooper’s versus Sharp-shinned Hawk (Sharpie). A solid ID depends on a number of things, including a good view of the tail colors and shape, the streaking on the plumage, and the bird’s relative size. All of those features can also vary by age and sex.
I shot this image of a Sharpie or Cooper’s at Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery last week (San Rafael, California), and ran the photo by my resident expert, Bird Master. She thought it was a Sharpie, but couldn’t say with certainty in the absence of a more detailed photo. So, for now, I’m saying Sharp-shinned Hawk but I’m open to an ID of Cooper’s if you believe I’ve made that designation in error.
Both Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are bird hunters. I’ve witnessed a Cooper’s shoot through a maze of branches in pursuit of its prey — in that particular case, missing her targeted finch. Those who keep bird feeders will, at some point, probably find a Cooper’s or a Sharpie eyeing the visiting birds. If you have bird feeders, it’s a good idea to provide cover for the feeding birds — thick trees or shrubs where birds can ditch if they perceive danger, like that of a nearby hawk.
This particular hawk was perched on a tombstone in a torrent of rain, fluffing and preening with little concern for my lens.
There are insects that eat other insects, mammals that eat other mammals, so it is not abnormal that there are birds that eat other birds … but I find it shocking!
Hello, Müge, thank you for the comment — from the beautiful enclave of Istanbul. I enjoyed perusing your photographs. I hadn’t experienced firsthand the various habits of Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shinned Hawks until we moved to an area that provided both habitat for the hawks and lots of gardens for the songbirds. Here in San Francisco, we also have Peregrine Falcons whose primary diet is birds (pigeons, doves, some waterfowl). Do you have nesting pairs of Peregrines in Istanbul? We have several such programs in Northern California, encouraging the reproduction of this once-endangered bird. I wrote about the Peregrines last year — the ones monitored by “nest cam” on a highrise in the city. Unfortunately, the odds against survival can be high for these raptors, and 2009 was a tough year for the Peregrine parents.
My guess is very loose and say Sharpie too, only because it looks quite petite and that lends to the smaller species but they are so different sexually dimorphically it gets tricky.
I love a big female Coopers as then there is not much to confuse it with..unless you start thinking Goshawk, but they are a nice jump up in size.
Of all things, not 12 hours after I posted the above comment had a female Coopers Hawk swing by on the wing.
What a size difference between a female Coppers and a Sharp Shinned!
A big female Copper’s is very nearly the size of a Peregrine, just not as stocky.
It further leads me to believe the cemetery bird is a Sharpie.
John, it’s just like how the reticular activating system helps you filter out information: you buy a blue Honda and suddenly, all you see on the road is other blue Hondas. 🙂
Thanks very much for your help with this ID. I just wasn’t sure. I’m getting a bit better with the distinctions but I’ve been cautioned that one should never get too arrogant in calling a Sharpie or a Cooper’s. When I see Sharp-shinned hawks, they do always seem to have a more slender appearance, even if that’s just a visual illusion from my end.
We have a Sharpie or a Cooper’s who occasionally flies between the flats in the building where we live. She swoops by so quickly, I haven’t yet identified her. I worry about her, too, because this building has a lot of glass. But, we don’t have translucent pass-through areas, and I strive to make our windows visible to birds, so I hope just just knows the ropes.
Yes, had a friend have a Sharpie suicide dive through a pane-really sad!
I agree, Sharp Shinned vs Coopers tough unless you get a great look and often it is just a whirl of color
on the zip-by! The big female Cooper is the only one I call “for sure” and male Sharp Shinned are not much bigger than a Merlin so I feel pretty good calling those with a good look on perches I have seen alot of other birds of prey for scale. Problem is with plumages and immatures… nightmare in bad lighting-99% time.
That’s what I love about harriers here-a bird you can sex as an adult without worry, males that is!
I have seen a Goshawk or two in Montana and they were VERY cool and they seem to be a nice size upgrade to the Coopers in my recollection.
Have you seen a Goshawk? Truly a meaty bird!