Ask SIB: What Bird of Prey is This?

Patricia’s Question:

On Monday, January 31, 2022, this is the scene found by Patricia and Page Schaefer in their driveway on Seabrook Island, SC.

Cooper’s Hawk with it’s prey, a Tricolor Heron
Photo by Patricia Schaefer

Identifying hawks can be confusing, so we asked our resident naturalist Bob Mercer for his opinion.

Bob’s Response:

“I would say it is an adult female Cooper’s Hawk. Why do I make that identification? The bird is an adult accipiter as evidenced by the red barring across the chest and gray body. Accipiters are bird hunting specialists.  These features get us down into the family of hawks.

“What is the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk? Two obvious features for birds standing or perched are size and the heaviness of the legs and feet. A Sharp-shinned Hawk ranges in size from 10 to 14 inches with the average weight of a male weighing about 0.2 pounds and about 0.3 pounds for a female. A Cooper’s Hawk’s size is between 14 to 20 inches. The average weight of a male is about .75 pounds and a female about 1.24 pounds. Usually the female hawks are larger than the males. From the picture one can see this is a big bird with heavy legs and feet. That would make it a Coopers Hawk. A Sharp-shinned Hawk would have skinny legs and feet. The clincher is in its diet! Tricolored Herons are between 25 and 30 inches and average about 0.9 pounds. Assuming this was a small Tricolored Heron, the accipiter had to be a big bird to even attempt something that large. Hence my identification as a large female Coopers Hawk.”

Please be sure to Ask SIB if you have a question about the birds!

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