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Cooper's Hawks of Peaks Island

Photo © Robert H. Sauerteig, Jr.

We introduce in this blog, the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) that is frequently seen by the Peaks Island community. And, a member of our community tells an incredible story about this hawk, that he wants to share with us. But first, let’s talk a little about this species (for more of a detailed account please go to the Bird Varieties Page: Cooper’s Hawk):

Three species of the genus Accipiter occur in Maine: Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Northern Goshawk, all of which are in the Family Accipitridae (1, 2).

Hooked bills, powerful legs, and strong feet that carry sharp and curved claws typify these hawks (birds of prey/raptors). The accipiters are woodland hawks with broad wings, long tails and keen vision, all designed for high speeds and agility required for outmaneuvering clever birds and mammals. (2, 3)

The Cooper’s Hawk and the Sharp-shinned Hawk with very similar plumages are easily confused. The main difference is that the Cooper’s Hawk is larger with a longer and more rounded tail, and a larger/darker head. However, since accipter females are larger than the males, a female Sharp-shinned Hawk is nearly the size of a male Cooper’s Hawk, making identification even more difficult.

Juveniles of these three accipters are even tougher to identify. Their plumages are so similar that the best identification feature is that the Cooper’s Hawk displays a broader white tip on the tail and a proportionally longer tail than its two ‘cousins’. (2)

However, even with such difficulties in distinguishing these three hawks Jeremy Wyant identified a family of Cooper’s Hawks in his/her (Martha) Peaks Island Gardens. Here is his tale:

Photo © Jeremy Wyant

“The first time we knew something different was up was a hawk sitting in our rock garden. He appeared to be studying several crows on our lawn. Just a few days later we realized he (or she) was one of a clutch that appears to have come from a nest just north of our house. Four hawks appeared at our birdbath together on 29 July. Three can be seen on the bath and a fourth was on the ground. We’re not sure if all four are juveniles. Maybe the one on the ground is a parent. The second photo of a single hawk is much clearer and appears to be a Coopers Hawk. Over the few weeks the hawks have been a constant noisy presence, frequenting the birdbath, chasing birds from our feeders, dive bombing us in our garden and on the deck. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site points out they have no fear of flying through dense woods chasing prey. We’ve seen them fly at high speeds through the apple tree in our back yard and the woods that abut three sides of our property. The smaller birds at our feeders have been pretty skittish but they’re still here in relatively large numbers. The larger birds: doves, cardinals and catbirds have been a lot more scarce. By the week of August 14th their presence has been a lot less frequent and it’s rarely more than one at a time.”

Photo © Jeremy Wyant

As Jeremy notes, his Peaks Island family of Cooper’s Hawks is in the process of breaking apart and migrating south. They may migrate singly or in small groups of two to three. The juveniles leave first followed by the female. Male juveniles may depart after the female juveniles. Hopefully, though, the juveniles stay together during their arduous journey ahead. (2)

Thank you Jeremy for sharing your Peaks Island Cooper’s Hawk family. We hope that at least part of the family will return next spring – or will they try to stay for the winter?

Michael LaCombe diligently searches Peaks Island for birds and shares with us lists that he compiles and submits to eBird. So far this month he has 7 bird lists, and counting. A new list can appear at any time. Please check daily for any new lists as they come off the 'press'.


  1. D.W. Winkler, S.M. Billerman, I.J. Lovette. (2015). Bird Families of the World: An Invitation to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona (pages: 102-201)

  2. Sibley, D.A. (2000). National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. NY (pages: 190-191).

  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. eds. (1992). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona (pages: 52,159, 161).

  4. Wikipedia: Cooper's Hawk

By: Jeremy Wyant and Patty Wainright

Reviewed by: Michelle Brown, Marty, and Sam Wainright

Thank you for your interest in the Backshore Bird Blog. If you have any additional bird sightings that you want to share or if you have any questions regarding Peak's bird life, please send them to Michelle:

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The Backshore Bird Blog


The objective of The Backshore Bird Blog is to share the wonder and diversity of bird species seen along the Peaks Island shore.

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take a look at our list of the 100 varieties of birds that have been spotted around the Island here. How many can you spot?

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