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Living Sanibel: The Cooper’s Hawk

By Staff | Sep 27, 2012

Photo by Bob Gress

Considered to be one of the world’s most agile and skillful fliers, the Cooper’s hawk readily cuts through tangles of bush, tree limbs, and heavy cover in search of prey. It specializes in taking down smaller birds, including doves, shorebirds, warblers, and grackles. This behavior comes at a price. In a study of more than 300 adult birds, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the chest and wishbone. It may well be assumed that another 5 to 10 percent did not survive the collision.

The Cooper’s hawk is adapting to people. In the early part of the 20th century its population was in decline as forests were cut down to make way for farms and ever growing urban and suburban environments. Recently the remaining birds have shown a tolerance to these changes and are moving into cities and suburbs with surprising frequency. There the Cooper’s hawk can find ample prey in rock pigeons and mourning and Eurasian collared-doves. Its flying skills come in handy amidst the telephone poles, fences, and concrete of a modern city.

The Cooper’s hawk can be readily distinguished from the slightly larger red-shouldered hawk by its rounded tail and more rounded wing tips. It often tends to have a bluish or darker red tint to its back as well. The chicks are well protected but still fall victim to snakes and other raptors; the adult hawk is seldom taken by anything other than the great horned owl.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel-A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.