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  • The Cooper's Hawk is a small raptor that captures its favorite prey including chipmunks, squirrels and other small mammals and birds.

  • Hawks are known for their sharp talons, which they use to catch prey even when in flight.

  • Over 250 species are included in the hawk family. Hawks, like most birds of prey, hunt during the daytime, unlike owls.

  • Red-tailed hawks prefer to build their nests at the edge of forests, in wooded fence rows, or in large trees surrounded by open areas.

  • Hawks, as part of the group known as birds of prey, have acute eyesight, muscular legs and sharp bills.

A circling silhouette suddenly dives toward the ground, snatching prey with powerful feet with curved, sharp talons. Raptors, or birds of prey, are meat eaters who use their feet, instead of their beak, to capture prey. Although a few are quite large, most raptors weigh less than two pounds and have different, distinct body shapes. All of them excel at speed and are efficient hunters. Raptors hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. Each bird has a hooked beak and talons for catching and tearing meat.

Hawks are just one type of American raptors. They are classified into two groups: buteos and accipiters. A buteo is a medium-sized raptor with a robust body and broad wings. Accipiters tend to be more slender with short broad rounded wings and a long tail. The typical flight pattern of an accipiter is a series of flaps followed by a short glide.

To have continued healthy populations, hawks depend on the preservation of relatively remote natural habitats that contains permanent flowing water and mature forested areas for nesting. More than half of all migratory raptors, including hawks, are threatened by habitat loss. In addition, they (and their prey) are poisoned by environmental contaminants and pesticides, and even more are taken by trapping and shooting. Wind power also poses a new threat to raptors. During their migrations, raptors often concentrate in large numbers along wind-prone flyways where both the birds and wind turbines harness the updrafts.

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

The fact that these birds tend to perch and soar in open habitats, display a reddish or rufous tail and tolerate human-dominated environments makes them one of the most frequently and easily observed raptors. Red-tailed hawks have adapted to human landscapes with isolated trees or small woodlots that provide nest sites and elevated perches for hunting reptiles, birds or rabbits.

In forested areas, red-tailed hawks choose to nest close to the trunk or near the tops of trees. Sometimes these birds nest on cliffs and human constructions. When building their nests, these hawks are secretive, and if disturbed, they may abandon the site. Although red-tailed hawks tolerate human activity, excessive disturbance can disrupt nesting.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperli)

The short rounded wings and a long tail enable the Cooper’s Hawk to maneuver adeptly and to hunt in areas of dense cover. This bird is well adapted to forested areas of the United States, southern Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Adult and Juvenal Cooper’s have two distinct plumages. Adults have blue-gray upperparts and white underparts, while Juveniles are brown and cream-colored. Adults also have the recognizable white tipped tails with alternating dark and light gray bands.

These raptors are most easily observed on migration. Cooper’s need deciduous and evergreen forests to nest but are often sighted in suburban and urban environments. When hunting, they usually attack with a sudden burst of speed close to the ground. Songbirds and gamebirds are their main prey along with rodents.


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