The designation Birds of Prey covers a wide range (from eagles to falcons) of our feathered population, as will be evident during the upcoming Seabrook Island Birders’ evening event on January 31st (Click here to learn more or register). Within that range, are three species identified as Accipiters. Accipiters are defined as short-winged hunters, with relatively long legs and tails, which are extremely adept at high speed attacks on small birds and mammals — often from concealed perches. Ambush is their forte.
One of these three, the Cooper’s Hawk, is common on Seabrook Island. The bird has a length of 16.5 inches and a wing span of 31 inches. This is smaller than its cousin the Northern Goshawk (21 and 41 inches, respectively), but larger than the similarly marked other cousin — the Sharp-shinned Hawk (11 and 23). For comparison purposes, the ever present Red-tailed Hawk is 19 inches long and with a 49 inch wing span. Below is the comparison of the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned.
When Roger Tory Peterson published the first handy-sized Field Guide for birders in 1934, the Cooper’s was called a Chicken Hawk and the Sharp-shinned a Sparrow Hawk. Changing names on bird species has always been a challenge for the bird watching community.
All juvenile accipiters have banded tails, brownish backs, and a tendency to streaked breasts. The adult male Cooper’s Hawk has a bluish-gray back and cap, plus a speckled orange breast. His flap-flap-glide flight pattern provides rather stiff wing beats. In contrast, the Sharpie’s wing beats are quick and snappy. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Separating Sharp-shinned Hawks from Cooper’s Hawks is one of the classic birding challenges.”
Favorite hunting sites for Cooper’s are the many bird feeders which birders display — and he is not interested in the seed therein. My usual observation finds them sitting, very erectly, on roof tops from which there is a great view of potential prey below. Last Spring there was a juvenile which seemed to make his home around the Island House.
A few years ago, there was a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks within The Village residential area of the Island. The male was known to make high speed passes over the resident’s heads as they walked around their community. Was he concerned for the safety of his new family or practicing flight techniques?
Several of our members have recently provided photographs of Cooper’s Hawks.
Submitted by George Haskins
Photographs by Ed Konrad, Marie Wardell & Carl Voelker