Coopers or Sharp-shinned? You be the judge…

Coopers or Sharp-shinned? You be the judge…

After my missed photographs several weeks ago, I have been carrying my camera with me when we go out for walks. Today, my efforts were rewarded.

Just a block away from our earlier sighting, my husband spotted this Cooper’s/Sharp-shinned hawk coming in to land as we approached the tree. This neighborhood has had a pair of accipiters, the group which both Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks belong to, nesting in it since at least 2009. And I am always confused as to which species it is. They are incredibly difficult to tell apart.

Based on size, my guess has always been that they are Cooper’s hawks, which, according to Audubon, are the size of Crows, while sharpies are the size of Blue Jays. This bird was Crow-sized.

The hawk perched in the tree above us, near what looks like the beginnings of a nest.

Several of the sites I went to mentioned that in Cooper’s Hawks, the feathers at the nape of the neck are lighter than those on the head, making the head look like “dark-capped”. There is a break in the dark coloring on this bird, so I’m tentatively nudging it further into the Cooper’s Hawk category.

But then we saw the tail — it was as square a tail as I’ve ever seen on an accipitor. Put a check mark in the Sharpie column. Cooper’s Hawks have more rounded tails.

Cooper’s Hawks have red eyes, while Sharpies eyes are orange. Then the photograph that the site where I got this fact from showed an orange-eyed Cooper’s Hawk. Sigh.

But my bird seems to have red eyes — Cooper’s.

The bird ducked it’s head and held it there several time times while we were watching. No idea what it was doing.

While trying to decide if my bird had a larger-than-expected head (which would be a vote for a Cooper’s), I noticed it did have lovely eye-brows. Don’t have a clue about whether it’s head is proportional.

Also, look at its beak — if you follow from the hook towards the head, you’ll see a little bump in the natural curve of the beak. That is called the “tominal tooth”, and is thought to be used by raptors to sever the necks of their prey.

Oh, my gosh! Look at those talons! When they are described as “needle-sharp” they aren’t exaggerating!

I didn’t know accipitors could turn their heads that far around.

But another great shot of a square tail.

I am going to come down in favor of this bird being a Cooper’s Hawk in spite of it’s square tail. It is big, is “dark-capped” and has red eyes. I may be wrong, but can’t prove it either way.

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