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16 Interesting Facts About Cooper’s Hawks

Cooper’s Hawks are a widespread bird of prey that’s fast, powerful, and bold. They have a long history of living and hunting near humans. Along with other species like the Red-tailed Hawk, they’re one of the most recognizable and frequently spotted birds of prey in North America. Here are 16 interesting facts about Cooper’s Hawks.

16 facts about Cooper’s Hawks

1. How do Cooper’s Hawks hunt?

Cooper’s Hawks are aggressive and bold. They use many different methods when hunting, depending on the prey. Sometimes they chase aerial prey, following every twist and turn with stunning agility. Other times they attack in short, direct flights, and still other times they chase they prey through thick vegetation, pursuing relentlessly.

2. Where do Cooper’s Hawks live?

Cooper’s Hawks can be found throughout most of North America. They range from coast-to-coast, as far north as central Canada and as far south as Guatemala. They are one of the most widespread birds of prey in North America, with the ability to live in a wide range of climates. 


3. What do Cooper’s Hawks eat?

Birds are the Cooper’s Hawk’s favorite food. So much so that for much of American history they were known as chicken hawks. Medium sized birds are preferentially targeted over small birds, and chickens make an easy meal for them. Bats are also a common prey item, and the hawk’s speed and agility make it relatively easy for them to catch bats- some hawks experience a 90% success rate when hunting bats.

4. How common are Cooper’s Hawks?

The Cooper’s Hawk has a stable population, and is considered quite common. Since they live throughout the Continental U.S. and large portions of Canada and Mexico they’re one of the most commonly spotted birds of prey. They can frequently be found in suburban areas and rural towns. 

5. What kind of habitat do Cooper’s Hawks like?

Their ideal habitat is woodland, and thick woodland at that. They readily adapt to more open suburbs, though, and they’re a common sight around parks, athletics fields and quiet neighborhoods. 

6. How do I attract Cooper’s Hawks?

Simple- put up a bird feeder. Cooper’s Hawks prefer to eat birds, so attracting more birds to your yard is likely to attract a hawk or two. If you have a backyard chicken coop, you’re virtually guaranteed to see Cooper’s Hawks from time to time. 

7. How fast can a Cooper’s Hawk fly?

Cooper’s Hawks can fly at high speed, often cruising at over 50mph. Their top speed is difficult to measure, since they typically hunt while flying through dense vegetation. In fact, many adult Cooper’s Hawks show evidence of numerous bone fractures in their chest and wings that result from striking trees and bushes at top speed.

8. Do Cooper’s Hawks mate for life?

Not always, but it is common for Cooper’s Hawks to mate for life. A large number of breeding pairs will reunite each breeding season, and hawks that find new mates are unusual.

Image (Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk): mpmochrie |

9. Where do Cooper’s Hawks build their nests?

Cooper’s Hawks will nest in any kind of tree, but they seek out trees located on flat ground in wooded areas. Their nests are typically 25-50 feet above the ground, usually in a fork or crotch in the trunk but occasionally on a horizontal branch.

10. How do I identify a Cooper’s Hawk?

Cooper’s Hawks have blue-gray coloring on their backs, with pale underparts that have red-brown barring. Adults have striking, reddish eyes. The tail is white with two thick, dark bars. 

Juveniles look different however, with a dark brown back (sometimes with visible white markings), a streaky brown face, and cream colored underparts heavily streaked and barred in brown. 

11. How do Cooper’s Hawks kill their prey?

Cooper’s Hawks capture their prey with their feet and then squeeze, using their powerful talons to crush their prey. Some hawks have been observed drowning their prey by holding them underwater until they stop moving.

12. When are Cooper’s Hawks most active?

Cooper’s Hawks are more active in the morning, particularly the early morning hours. While they will still hunt during the afternoons, they’re far less active during that time of day, likely to avoid competing directly with other species of hawk. 

13. Do Cooper’s Hawks migrate?

In some parts of their range, Cooper’s Hawks do migrate. The northernmost parts of their range are only inhabited during the breeding season, while the Cooper’s Hawks in Mexico and Guatemala are only their during the winter months. In the majority of their range, including most of the United States, they are non-migratory.

14. How did the Cooper’s Hawk get its name?

The Cooper’s Hawk was often called the chicken hawk or hen hawk, especially during colonial times, because it so commonly preyed on chickens being raised on farms. It was officially named the Cooper’s Hawk in 1828 by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in honor of his friend William Cooper. The nickname “chicken hawk” stuck around for a long time afterward, however.

15. How big is a Cooper’s Hawk?

They range from 14 to 20 inches long, with a 24-39in wingspan, and averaging slightly over one pound in weight. Females average about 40% heavier than males, but they can be as much as 125% more massive. This can pose some problems for males, since medium-sized birds are a common prey item for Cooper’s Hawks and small males may occasionally fall prey to females.

16. Will a Cooper’s Hawk attack chickens?

Cooper’s Hawks are notorious for killing chickens. Chickens are vulnerable because they can’t fly away and have few natural defenses. The Cooper’s Hawk’s appetite for chicken earned it the nickname Chicken Hawk during colonial times.