May 3, 2012
One of the most common tricky bird identification challenges that FeederWatchers face is separating Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. Both hawks are becoming increasingly more common at FeederWatch sites and, to the untrained eye, can appear very similar. This is why a recent interaction caught on camera by Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff member Jay McGowan piqued our interest.
It’s not often that one gets to see these two easily-confused species together! During the interaction in these photos, the Sharp-shinned Hawk mobbed the Cooper’s Hawk, much like you would often see a crow mob a raptor.
Seeing these two species juxtaposed next to each other allows us to really see some the features that distinguish them. Notice, first of all, the size-difference between the two. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is noticeably smaller in size than the Cooper’s. Next, notice the small head of the Sharp-shinned Hawk (almost comically small), which barely projects beyond the leading edge of its wings, compared to the large brutish head of the Cooper’s Hawk, which sticks out noticeably. Also take note of the spindly, pencil-thin legs of the Sharp-shinned Hawk next to the thick, stocky legs of the Cooper’s Hawk.
For those of you wondering why the Cooper’s Hawk is upside-down in the second photo: raptors that are being mobbed often try to scare away their harassers by flashing their outstretched talons. The easiest way to do this in mid-air is to perform a quick barrel roll to show off the weaponry. In this situation, the Sharp-shinned didn’t appear to be very intimidated!
Based on the above ID tips and our Tricky ID page, can you tell which of the hawks (from this same pair) is in this photo?