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Cooper's Hawk Life History


ForestsCooper’s Hawks are forest and woodland birds, but our leafy suburbs seem nearly as good. These lanky hawks are a regular sight in parks, quiet neighborhoods, over fields, at backyard feeders, and even along busy streets if there are trees around.Back to top


BirdsCooper’s Hawks mainly eat birds. Small birds are safer around Cooper’s Hawks than medium-sized birds: studies list European Starlings, Mourning Doves, and Rock Pigeons as common targets along with American Robins, several kinds of jays, Northern Flicker, and quail, pheasants, grouse, and chickens. Cooper’s Hawks sometimes rob nests and also eat chipmunks, hares, mice, squirrels, and bats. Mammals are more common in diets of Cooper’s Hawks in the West.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeCooper’s Hawks build nests in pines, oaks, Douglas-firs, beeches, spruces, and other tree species, often on flat ground rather than hillsides, and in dense woods. Nests are typically 25-50 feet high, often about two-thirds of the way up the tree in a crotch or on a horizontal branch.

Nest Description

Males typically build the nest over a period of about two weeks, with just the slightest help from the female. Nests are piles of sticks roughly 27 inches in diameter and 6-17 inches high with a cup-shaped depression in the middle, 8 inches across and 4 inches deep. The cup is lined with bark flakes and, sometimes, green twigs.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.7-2.0 in (4.4-5.1 cm)
Egg Width:1.4-1.6 in (3.5-4 cm)
Incubation Period:30-36 days
Nestling Period:27-34 days
Egg Description:Pale blue to bluish white.
Condition at Hatching:Covered in white down and weighing just 28 grams or 1 ounce, but able to crawl around nest.
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Aerial ForagerCooper’s Hawks show the classic accipiter flight style: a few stiff wingbeats followed by short glides. But in pursuit of prey their flight becomes powerful, quick, and very agile, allowing the bird to thread its way through tree branches at top speed. Courting birds display by flying with slow wingbeats, then gliding with wings held in a V. Males make a bowing display to females after pairing and before beginning to build the nest.Back to top


Low Concern

Cooper's Hawk populations have increased from 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a breeding population of 1,000,000, and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. This hawk's stable and positive population trend is a turnaround from the mid-twentieth century, when use of the pesticide DDT and widespread shooting greatly reduced populations. Collisions with human-made objects (windows, cars) causes 70% of deaths in urban areas.

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Curtis, Odette E., R. N. Rosenfield, and J. Bielefeldt. (2006). Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Roth, A. J., G. S. Jones, and T. W. French (2002). Incidence of naturally-healed fractures in the pectoral bones of North American Accipiters. Raptor Research 36:229–230.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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