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Cooper's Hawks: Ambush Hunters and Acrobatic Fliers

Cooper's hawks belong to Accipiter family of hawks and are roughly the size of a crow. Their relative, the sharp-shinned hawk, looks very similar but is slightly smaller and less common around the Chicago area. Both are bird-eating specialists and ambush hunters.

These hawks primarily prey on medium-sized birds like European starlings, mourning doves, pigeons and American robins and will also eat small mammals like chipmunks and squirrels. Their long tails act like rudders, enabling them to be extremely agile flyers in wooded areas as they hunt birds.

Among the bird world’s most skillful fliers, Cooper’s Hawks are common woodland hawks that tear through cluttered tree canopies in high-speed pursuit of other birds. You’re most likely to see one prowling above a forest edge or field using just a few stiff wingbeats followed by a glide.

Once on the Illinois Endangered Species List, Cooper's hawk populations have recovered in part because they have adapted so well to urban and suburban environments. 

You may hear a Cooper’s hawk before you see it, as they can be elusive. Check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website to learn the Cooper’s call and learn more about this raptor. 

If you have a bird feeder and see a Cooper’s hawk in your yard, you can take your feeders down for a few days to encourage the hawk to move on instead of preying on your feeder visitors.

Find out more about Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks by listening to this “Wild Things” podcast

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