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Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawks are quick, powerful and relatively small birds of prey. Their short, rounded wings and long barred tail give them incredible agility as they hunt in thick woodlands, dodging obstacles through dangerously cluttered forests in high speed pursuit of smaller birds.

Size Shape and coloration

The male Coopers Hawk is smaller than the female and measures in at about 14-18 inches. The larger female is typically 17-20 inches in length.  Adults have a dark grey back, and long barred tail. The chest is usually white with small brown streaks but can be totally brown in some individuals.

Coopers hawks appear to have broad shoulders when perched, they have rounded wings and tail, orange to red colored eyes, and bright yellow talons.

Coopers are often confused with sharp shinned hawks which look very similar but are smaller and have longer more squared looking tails. Sharp shins eat smaller prey which allows them to live in the same habitat as the Coopers Hawk without much competition for food.

Hunting Methods of the Coopers Hawk

Typical Prey of the Coopers Hawk

Because the coopers hawk kills its prey by squeezing, it can not take on animals that are close to or larger than its self; instead it preys on smaller birds like robins, blue-jays, pigeons, doves, and starlings. Cooper Hawks typically won’t bother with small finches unless times are tough or supply is plentiful (like at a backyard bird feeder).

Killing Methods

Unlike many other hawks, coopers do not usually attack from above. Instead, they surprise their prey by darting out of hiding places at high speeds within thickly wooded forests. These birds also hunt at forest edges and cities with lots of buildings but are rarely seen in large open fields as they depend on surprise ambush to make a kill.

Coopers hawks kill their prey by squeezing victims to death. This usually is done on the ground. If shallow water is near by they will drown their victims by holding the head under water.

Parrots in danger of the Coopers Hawk

Female cooper hawks are so powerful and aggressive that they can kill and eat anything slightly smaller than them selves (this includes male coopers hawk) but they normally won’t attack anything over 14 inches in length. All conures, lorikeets, lovebirds, parakeets, cockatiels and similar sized birds are in danger of death by Coopers Hawk. Large Cockatoos and Macaws are usually safe.

Your parrot has a much stronger bite than the coopers hawk’s normal prey. Because of this, if your bird is not killed by the initial strike of the hawk, he may be released if he can get a good bite in on his predator.

Because Coopers usually kill their prey on the ground, you may be able to chase them off of your parrot if attacked.

Cool Facts from Cornell

  • Dashing through vegetation to catch birds is a dangerous lifestyle. In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially of the furcula, or wishbone.
  • A Cooper’s Hawk captures a bird with its feet and kills it by repeated squeezing. Falcons tend to kill their prey by biting it, but Cooper’s Hawks hold their catch away from the body until it dies. They’ve even been known to drown their prey, holding a bird underwater until it stopped moving.
  • Once thought averse to towns and cities, Cooper’s Hawks are now fairly common urban and suburban birds. Some studies show their numbers are actually higher in towns than in their natural habitat, forests. Cities provide plenty of Rock Pigeon and Mourning Dove prey. Though one study in Arizona found a downside to the high-dove diet: Cooper’s Hawk nestlings suffered from a parasitic disease they acquired from eating dove meat.
  • Life is tricky for male Cooper’s Hawks. As in most hawks, males are significantly smaller than their mates. The danger is that female Cooper’s Hawks specialize in eating medium-sized birds. Males tend to be submissive to females and to listen out for reassuring call notes the females make when they’re willing to be approached. Males build the nest, then provide nearly all the food to females and young over the next 90 days before the young fledge.
  • The oldest known Cooper’s Hawk was 20 years, 4 months old.

You can learn more at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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