Cooper's Hawk

large gray and white bird perching on a black branch
Scientific Name
Accipiter cooperii
Accipitridae (hawks and eagles) in the order Accipitriformes

Cooper's hawks have short, rounded wings and long, narrow, rudderlike tails. They are frequently seen foraging along hedgerows and brush-entangled fencerows.

The Cooper’s hawk has a short, rounded wing and a long, rounded-tipped tail usually with a wide white terminal band. Adults have blue-gray above, rusty horizontal barring below. The head is large, appearing longer in flight than the head of a sharp-shinned hawk; crown color is darker than back. Frequently misidentified as an immature northern goshawk, which has thin brown streaks on the under tail coverts that are lacking in Cooper’s hawks. In flight, Cooper’s hawks alternate flapping and sailing and have a steadier flight than that of sharp-shinned hawks.


Length: 15-18 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

Where To Find
Cooper's Hawk Distribution Map

Statewide. As rare summer resident, statewide, except possibly absent as a breeder in the unforested areas in the Mississippi Lowlands.

Usually seen foraging for birds in hedgerows, along tree lines and occasionally in yards. As with most predators, accipiters like this hawk are probably naturally rare. Generally speaking, the more abundant the prey, the more abundant the predators, and hopefully vice versa; an abundance of accipiters is usually a sign of good health for other bird populations in general.

Cooper's hawks forage for birds in hedgerows, along tree lines, and occasionally at bird feeders. They are agile fliers and capable of pursuing and catching other birds in flight, and they may visit bird feeders in winter to prey on the birds attracted to the area. They fly swiftly, emerging from the cover of the trees and shrubs, surprising their prey. They may also eat small mammals such as squirrels and mice.

Uncommon migrant and winter resident; rare summer resident.

Life Cycle

Nests are built in trees in forests with plentiful songbird populations, built of sticks and lined with flakes of bark and small twigs. Males build the nest and provide almost all the food for the female and nestlings. Clutches comprise 2-6 eggs, with 1 brood a year. Incubation lasts 30-36 days, and the young fledge after another 27-34 days.

Cooper's hawks are naturally drawn to areas where their prey abound, so they often learn to hunt birds attracted to backyard bird feeders. If a hawk is hunting birds drawn to your bird feeder, and you don't like it, then take down your feeders for a few days and the hawk will move somewhere else.

Accipiters, including the Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, are hawks that specialize in hunting other birds, and their slender bodies, long tails and legs, and short broad wings give them breathtaking speed and maneuverability in catching birds among leaves and tree branches.

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Similar Species
About Birds in Missouri

About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.