Archive for Accipiter

Cooper’s Hawk, immature male 4/19/18

We have 3 Accipiter hawks in New England, relatively slender birds compared to the bulkier soaring hawks. Accipiters have short rounded wings and long rudder-like tails designed for maximum maneuverability for chasing littler birds through the woods. The 3 species are basically different sizes of the same design, with the Cooper’s Hawk being the mid-sized model. This one’s a juvenile, revealed by the yellow iris which turns red as the bird ages. Juve Coops also have a finely streaked breast, like raindrops, unlike the smaller Sharp-shinned which has a more barred breast or the larger Northern Goshawk which has a more heavily streaked breast. Another definitive clue to it being a Cooper’s Hawk are the outer tail feathers being shorter, resulting in a rounded tail. Tail feathers all the same length produce a more squared-off look.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk, female, Christmas Puzzlebird 12/25/17

Last week’s Christmas Puzzle bird was looking to ID this bird, in particular whether it was a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The tricky part of this photo was that none of the usual signs were especially definitive or obvious in this photo. The nape coloration wasn’t prominent so you couldn’t really tell whether the bird appeared “hooded” or “capped,” nor was proportional head size obvious, and even what appears to be a rounded tail was a bit misleading. The one thing that could be said for sure about this bird was that it was an Accipiter and with a yellow eye, that made it a juvenile Accipiter. When you see a juvenile accipiter that is either Sharpie or Coop, it’s very easy to tell them apart from their front sides. The immature Coop has finely drawn  dark streaks on a white background, while the Sharpie has brown barring. both give way to reddish barring in the adults of either. But this example here is clearly a Sharp-shinned Hawk. So what about that rounded tail? Well what makes a Sharpie tail look square is that all the tail feathers are the same length, while the outer 2 feathers in a Cooper’s Hawk are always shorter than the rest, which creates the pronounced rounding. Looking carefully at the bird above to see the tail feathers are indeed all one length, and that alone is enough to definitivel;y call this bird a Sharp-shinned Hawk. It also turns out that the outermost tails feathers of female Sharpies are a little rounder than males, while the tail feathers of male Sharpies sometimes shows a notch in the middle.

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Sharpie or Coop? Christmas Puzzlebird 12/17/17

This hawk burst through my Arbor vitaes this afternoon after one of the Juncos foraging under the feeder. Missed! It’s either a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk and telling the difference between the two is one of the more difficult challenges for beginner and even intermediate level birders. Both are Accipiters, short-winged and long-tailed hawks designed for agility and speed when chasing prey through the woods. One of them has a more squared off tail while the other’s more rounded. One’s head is proportionally large to the body while the other’s head is proportionally small. One has a paler nape than its crown creating a “capped” appearance while the other has a dark crown and nape, creating a more “hooded” appearance. And while Sharpies are smaller than Coops, male Coops are about the same size as female Sharpies. Sharpies have those skinny legs (the eponymous “sharp shins”) compared to Coops.  To make things even more complicated, juveniles have different breast feathering from each other and adults!

I’ll send a free 2018 Phillip’s Fetching Birds Calendar to whoever posts the correct answer with the best explanation that appears in the comments by midnight Christmas eve. Winner and answer will be posted here on Christmas day.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk immature female 4/29/15

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See how her pins are like toothpicks? Sharp-shinned is a poetic way of saying skinny legged! This one was terrorizing juncos at my neighbor Hol’s backyard feeders. Came swooping in out of nowhere between the posts as the juncos exploded but for all her agility, she missed, to settle here, then noticed me raising my camera and was gone. Fifteen minutes later the juncos were back, again the Sharpie attacked from nowhere and missed, but 3rd time she connected and flew off over the garden flying heavier than usual. Take-out from Hollis’s Restaurant.

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Cooper’s Hawk male 4/21/15

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Immature Cooper’s Hawk 1/30/15

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I see a fair number of Cooper’s Hawks in the winter months, way more Coops than the smaller Sharpies these days. 30 years ago it would have been uncommon to see either at the end of January. Just drive around the neighborhood now and you’re likely to find one skulking in the trees behind someone’s house, ready to swoop in on a local feeding station, terrorizing the songbirds. And at least half (or more) are immatures with streaky breasts, speckled backs, and pale-eyes.

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Immature Cooper’s Hawk 12/12/14

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In this pic are a few of the classic fieldmarks for telling the immature Cooper’s Hawk from the smaller but similar immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. Large head and golden-faced, check. Tail more rounded than squared, check. Tail-banding uneven, check. Thin delicate brown (not red) breast streaks, check. Slender rather than big-shouldered appearance, check. Older Coops take on red eyes, a natty plumage that’s blue gray topside with a reddish barred breast and a dark cap. In winter Coops terrorize backyard feeding stations, their short wings give them the agility and speed in woodland settings that make them a songbird’s nightmare.

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