There are 47 species of Accipiter world-wide with three species of Accipiters in North America. The smallest is the Sharp-shinned Hawk (about the size of a robin), the medium sized is the Cooper's Hawk (about the size of a crow)and the largest is the Northern Goshawk (about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk).

Accipiters are classified as true hawks, characterized by long tails and short rounded wings, which have evolved for catching prey in forested areas where fast acceleration, the ability to make quick turns and to stop quickly is important.

If you are trying to identify a hawk that may be a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk, check out our Sharp-shinned Hawk vs. Cooper's Hawk page.

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Cooper's Hawk Sharp-shinned hawk Sharp-shinned hawk
Cooper's Hawk (adult by eye color & plumage) Coopers Hawk pictures Coopers Hawk Information Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile by eye color & plumage) Sharp-shinned Hawk Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile by eye color & plumage, male by size) Click on photo
Northen Goshawk Northen Goshawk chicks Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk (adult by eye color & plumage) Northern Goshawk page Northern Goshawk Chicks (20-22 days old) Northern Goshawk Pictures Northern Goshawk (imm by eye color & plumage) Northern Goshawk Pictures
European Goshawk chick European Goshawk chick Northern Goshawk
European Goshawk chick

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European Goshawk chick

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Northern Goshawk (2nd Year - Notice Juvenile & Adult feathers)

Northern Goshawk Pictures

Accipiter Characteristics

The short rounded wings allow for fast acceleration and aid in dodging around and going between trees and branches. The long tail aids in braking and making fast turns.

Though Accipiters are adapted for hunting and nesting in forested areas, they can also be found nesting in riparian areas of open country or even in isolated clumps of trees. They can be seen hunting in open areas within several miles of their nests during the breeding season and they also have to hunt as they migrate across open country.

"Sharpies", "Coops" and Goshawks are most commonly seen during migration (esp. Fall Migration), where they can be seen flying with their typical flap-flap-flap-glide pattern.

  • North American Accipiters prey on a variety of birds and mammals.

  • Sharp-shinned Hawks prey almost exclusively on small birds.

  • Cooper's Hawks prey on small mammals, lizards and medium sized birds.

  • Northern Goshawks feed on small and medium sized mammals and medium to large sized birds.

Accipiters are size dimorphic, meaning that one sex is larger than the other. They are also referred to as reversed size dimorphic because the females are larger than the males (as with most raptor species). See individual species for more specific information.

The reversed size dimorphism has long been known by falconers. The old falconry term for a male raptor is "tiercel", which means "a third less".

More Information about Birds and Birds of Prey:

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Birds of Prey

Go to Raptor Migration Page

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