Hawk or Falcon?

by Julie Reis
(San Antonio TX)

Sharp-shinned Hawk or Cooper's Hawk?

Sharp-shinned Hawk or Cooper's Hawk?

Q: This lovely bird was spotted sitting on our back fence today
(1/3/11) in San Antonio TX at about 4:30 PM. He was hanging out above our
feeders where the songbirds usually feed. I haven't been able to fully identify
this guy or gal, but think it may be a prairie falcon?

The bird looks to be medium sized, maybe a little larger than a robin with a
long tail. I've never seen a bird similar to this at any of our Texas homes so
it was surprising to see this fella today. Would love to know what it is.

A: We believe your bird is either a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) or Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), of the Accipiter  subfamily, Accipitrinae. We cannot see a lot of detail in the photo, but we can
see that the bird lacks the dark moustache or sideburn line that a Prairie
Falcon (Falco mexicanus) has coming down from the eye across the face.
Also, based on what you say size is, it could not be a Prairie Falcon because
they are 17" in size (about the size of a crow) whereas a robin is 9-11". We
also would not expect a Prairie Falcon to be perched there in the trees because they prefer open country.

If the bird is slightly larger than a robin, it is most likely a Sharp-shinned Hawk which are 10-14" in size. Cooper's Hawks are more the size of a crow, from 14-20" in size, the females are typically larger than the males which is true of Sharpy's as well. It can be challenging though to tell the difference between a female Sharp-shinned Hawk and a male Cooper's Hawk by size alone. More clues are needed.

It's difficult to see the colors in the photo, but it appears that the breast
has brown streaks as opposed to rusty barring. This would indicate a juvenile
Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk Up Close

This is a juvenile bird that is starting to get some of the rusty barring
across the breast, but still has retained juvenile brown feathers as well.

Aside from size, you can also tell a Sharp-shinned Hawk from a Cooper's Hawk
by the tail shape. Sharpy's have square tails whereas Cooper's have rounded
tails at the bottom. It is hard to see from the photo since the branch in the
background is blocking the view of the tail. If you can remember what shape it
looked like, let us know by commenting below. One other way to tell the
difference between the two accipiters is a Cooper's Hawk head will somewhat
appear to be flattened at the top.

Left photo is juvenile male Sharp-shinned Hawk, right photo is adult male
Cooper's Hawk.

Sharp-shinned hawkCooper's Hawk

Click on photos to enlarge.

If you happen to get another look at the bird, see if you can tell if its tail is rounded or squared, if it has rusty barring, brown streak or a combination of both, and if its head has a more flattened look to it on top. Please add any further comments or questions below.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Identification

Sharp-shinned Hawk Info

Cooper's Hawk ID

Cooper's Hawk Pictures

Comments for Hawk or Falcon?

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Thanks for helping me sleuth our neighborhood birds!
by: Anonymous

I just moved to a beautiful, tree lined area of Los Angeles (HUGE fig & camphor trees and other fruit bearing treas in the area as well as large park/nature reserve nearby and the ocean just a few miles further) For my first few weeks I thought I heard the sounds of, well, baby dragons in the nearby trees.
Yesterday I saw 3 beautiful raptors high up in the canopy of a camphor tree. I could see the banded brown & white markings on their flight wings and underside of their tail wings. The belly and throat looked to be white with a mottled brown and white chest. Brown hawk-like (rounded) head. Couldn't make out the beak shape because they stayed high up.
It seemed like there might have been a nest at the top of the canopy, but I can't be sure. I did hear their chirping, rising call and I saw one fly over to perch on a nearby power line pole.
From this posting I surmise that they may be juvenile sharp-shinned hawks (rounded tail wings). I wish I could submit a picture for you, but I wanted to say thanks for the detail in your post - it was very helpful!

Re: Juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawks
by: Birdwatching Bliss

Glad our post was helpful for identifying the sharpies. It becomes easier the more you look at different raptors, the way they fly, their shape, their behaviors, field marks, etc..

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