A Cooper’s Hawk has been nesting in Hampshire Township, just outside the town of Hampshire, Illinois. They can be seen flying swiftly between the trees. Circumnavigating farm fields, skimming over fences, twirling and disappearing only to reappear in a free fall.
They dive low to the ground like a kite on a tight string. Immediately, darting up to the treetops where they disappear in the dense foliage. Those explosions of speed are amazing. Observing their enthusiasm can take your breath away. While giving you an adrenaline rush that will have you on your toes, wishing you could follow them into that kaleidoscope of green. Calling out warnings, with a cak-cak-cak-cak-cak, in bursts of two to five seconds long, an alarm that a human is in the yard. At the same time, the air is charged with angry calls from other birds screeching that a Cooper’s Hawk is hunting.
These hawks have a kettle of nicknames: Forest hawk, Chicken hawk, Blue Darter, Quail Hawk, Hen Hawk, Mexican hawk, Striker, Swift hawk, Lynx of the bird world, and a Flying Cross. They live up to every one of those names.
Early in May, an adult hawk was dive-bombing the house making it abundantly clear that they were nesting. Once you know that a bird is nesting, stay away from them. They are secretive and protective of their nests. Cooper’s Hawk can lay between two and five eggs and will attack if you try to approach them. You can’t blame them for trying to protect their offspring. Having humans around will cause the birds stress and they may abandon their young.
They weigh between ten to twenty-four ounces. And have a wingspan of twenty-seven to thirty-six inches; similar to the size of a crow at fifteen to twenty inches long. According to, ‘hawkwatch.org’ a Cooper’s Hawk can be easily misidentified. They do look similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, which are smaller birds. You would need to see two birds next to each other, comparing size and color to accurately identify a Cooper’s hawk. The color of their eyes, the iris, will change from a nestling’s bluish-gray to the juvenile’s bright yellow. With the changing plumage, from juvenile to adult, eye color will transform into the red iris of an adult.
Cooper’s Hawks were on the endangered species list in 2013, they have since been taken off that list. Survival is still a fight as they contend with pesticides, foxes, accidents, and humans. It is illegal to kill them. Killing hawks is a federal violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Hawks in flight By Gerardine Baugh A shrill cry echoes off the green that is summer I see her. Then I see him, both Wings spread like fingers, touching the clouds Circling to a height afar of Icarus’s dream So close to the sun They own the air in a union of steaming blue They are lovers, keepers of peace Wishing I could join their power of free-flight I cherish a desire For it to be more, than a dream
Hawks help keep wild birds and rodents from over populating which is a good thing. Cooper’s hawk will eat wild birds, rats, mice and insects, even lizards, snakes, toads, anything small enough for them to carry. Which is why putting out poison to kill a rodent is a bad idea; it will end up killing a helpful, amazing hawk.
A juvenile, Cooper’s Hawk landed on my deck railing looking frazzled and wet. He may have just left the nest. If you look closely, at the photo, you can see some pinfeathers. That bird is not paying any attention to what or who is behind the window, that is directly in front of where he is perched. When he finally notices, he seems confused, surprised, then upset. He seems to be saying, ‘How dare you look at me!’
On the other side of that window not only was this guy being filmed, but there were cats watching as if it were a movie. They were so enthralled by the large bird; they hardly noticed the glass in-between.
Five days after that first encounter, I was on the deck checking my tomatoes and taking pictures, when I spotted that hawk balancing on an old trimmed, tree branch. It was over fifty feet from the house. Cooper’s Hawk do not like being watched. That didn’t surprise me. Hawks are predators, hunters. They aren’t at ease being noticed. This bird was understandably distressed at being looked at, so I took my camera and went inside.
I won’t try and approach raptors; their talons and sharp beaks could send me to the hospital. Or they can be injured trying to get away. I took my pictures and let him be.
According to ‘All About Birds,’ Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) kill their prey by repeated squeezing. (In that case, Raquel Welch’s character, Loana, shouldn’t have survived the flight to the pterodactyl’s nest. Yes, I know, I am over-looking the fact that picking her up wouldn’t have been impossible.) Some hawks have been known to hold their prey underwater until it drowns. Males are smaller than females; the males build the nest, and will provide all the food for the female and the young fledging. Females will do all the hunting while not nesting. The females are bigger and stronger than the males so they can catch larger prey.
Cooper’s Hawks fly through trees, fast. Weaving in and out quickly, they can easily get hurt by running into hanging branches, which can cause their deaths. In a study of 300 Cooper’s Hawks skeletons, 23 percent had healed over fractures. (See link 7)
- Accipiter: Short, round wings, and rudder-like tails, they are spectacular at maneuvering in thick woods, darting in and out of trees. Examples of accipiter’s are Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks.
- Buteo: Soaring hawks, they can soar for long stretches without flapping their wings. Broad-wings, and short broad tails, Buteos include the Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk.
- Falcons: Fastest birds of prey, long pointed wings, streamlined bodies. The peregrine falcon can dive at speeds over 150 miles per hour. Falcons include the American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and Merlin.
Don’t try to touch a Hawk. Don’t try to save them. All your good intentions will do is harm them. Adopt a no-nest policy. Which means you won’t approach any bird’s nest. Never try to get a peek at a Hawk without using binoculars. Getting too close can be dangerous for you and the hawk.
Have you seen a Cooper’s hawk?
Here are some great sites if you want to read about Cooper’s Hawks.
- If you found an injured bird call this helpline. CBCM hotline, 773-988-1867
- Fox Valley Wild Life Center at (630) 365-3800
- The Raptor Research Foundation, Inc. PDF In link: Incidence of naturally healed fractures in the pectoral bones of North American accipiters.
- Kane County Audubon: (click link for ‘sightings’)