Cooper's Hawk, Rockledge, FL 2/24/13

Adult Cooper’s Hawk, Rockledge, FL 2/24/13

The Gray Cat and I were standing on the screen porch checking out the back yard the other day when a big brown hawk swooped by. He (she?) was about 10′ out and no more than 2′ off the ground and moving at a pretty good clip. He ended up sitting on a pole in my neighbor’s yard so I ran inside, grabbed the camera and went back out. I thought the shots came out OK, but he split to the power line after only a few. The image to the right is heavily cropped; megapixels to the rescue, but click on it to see it full-size. Nice. I liked it enough to want to post it, but I wanted to know what I was showing, so I emailed a copy to my buddy, George, and asked him a simple question: what is it?

George, as well as his partner Maureen, is an avid bird watcher. He lives in urban Baltimore and rural Virginia, regularly alternating between the two places.  Many times I’ve been with him as he’s driving and he’ll gyrate in his seat pointing out some avian as we slow and weave. He and Maureen even went to Cuba with the Audubon Society for a bird census. If anyone could answer me, he could do so pretty simply and straightforwardly: “Why that’s a <insert bird here>”. A few words and done.


I received 2 emails back-to-back asking questions: “was it in FL?”, “how big’s the pole?”.  Then I got my answer. And a few words:


Well, it is a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii. That was my first guess since it is the most common accipiter on the East coast from Florida to New England. Adults measure 16-17 inches and that jives with the scale (I actually scaled your full photo with my architect’s scale 🙂

It could have been a Sharp-Shinned Hawk if it were 3/4 of that size but they are less frequent. Likewise it could have been a Northern Goshawk if larger (X 1 1/4) and you took the photo in GSMNP. Goshawks don’t go down to Florida though. They are a sensible bird.

Accipiters are “bird hawks”…as their main diet is birds (but they will also take lizards and the like, so that Cooper’s is probably loving it in your backyard) I occasionally see them on our property in Rappahannock County. They dash in from the woods in a burst of speed and snatch a bird from our bird feeders then fly off. Even had a Cooper’s frequenting my back yard when I lived on Pilgrim Rd. in Baltimore. They are everywhere. Awesome predator. They can dart through woods with amazing speed and maneuverability due to their feather design…something to watch! I’ve had the good fortune to witness it several times. Mother Nature’s original stealth fighter.

I know, I know…This is probably more information than you need or want to know…and don’t get me started talking about Buteo hawks. Caption the photo as an adult Cooper’s Hawk.

He can talk like that about trees, too.
George, 1/14/12

George, 1/14/12