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home : • birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

9/11/2008 3:42:00 PM
Cooper's Hawk -
A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk photographed in Warren  Photo by Don Reimer
A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk photographed in Warren Photo by Don Reimer
by Don Reimer

If a hawk is marauding around your backyard bird feeders, the chances are strong that it is a member of the Accipiter family. Accipiters are woodland hawks with short rounded wings and long tails specifically designed for steering their way through tight wooded habitats. This particular hawk family comes in three sizes, with the powerful, gray-breasted adult Goshawk being the largest. Goshawks are swift forest predators, capable of catching Ruffed Grouse on the wing.

In terms of size, the Cooper's Hawk falls next in line. The juvenile Cooper's Hawk is distinguished by its long rounded tail (with crisp black and white lines on the undertail) and fine brown streaking on the chest and belly. The juvenile's yellowish eyes become orangey-red as the birds mature. It is postulated that rising Mourning Dove numbers (a favored prey item) in recent decades has led to a resurgence in Cooper's numbers in the Northeast.

Very similar in appearance to the Cooper's, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest of the Accipiters. The diminutive male "sharpies" are about the size of a Blue Jay.

Mid to late-September is the peak period for fall hawk migration. Hawks migrate in the daytime and are dependent on rising air thermals and updrafts along hills and ridges to propel their movements. The best migration conditions are during cold weather fronts with strong northwest winds. In the sky, Accipiters use a unique flap-and-glide manner of flight, with several short, snappy flaps followed by a brief glide.

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