Learn About Birds

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks pose a real ID challenge, even for longtime birders. Throughout the year, there is great variation in plumage and in size for these two species. They look so much alike that no single field mark stands out to help bird watchers easily tell one from the other.

Size is the defining factor, but that’s sometimes hard to judge with a single bird. The rule of thumb is that a Cooper’s Hawk is about the size of an American Crow and the Sharp-shinned Hawk is more the size of a jay.

Below are a few ID guidelines that may help–at least some of the time! Clicking on the bird name will also take you to more information in our Online Bird Guide.


Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

by Gary Botello

Sharop-shinned Hawk

by Robin Solomon

Keys to ID:

  • Crow-sized, on average
    14-20 inches long; female larger than the male
  • Thick body and broad
    chest– lower center of gravity than Sharp-shinned
  • Thicker legs than
  • Long, rounded tail
    with a broad white band. The middle tail feathers are usually the
  • Dark cap; feathers on
    back of head often raised, giving it a crested look never seen on the
  • Slow wing beats that could
    easily be counted
    ; the head projects far beyond the

Keys to ID:

  • Blue Jay-sized,
    on average 10-14 inches long; female is larger; can be similar to
    small Cooper’s.
  • Narrow hips and broad
    chest; center of gravity higher than Cooper’s
  • Thinner, pencil-like
    than Cooper’s.
  • Square, long tail;
    outer tail feathers usually the longest
  • Hooded appearance from
    dark feathers on crown and neck
  • Quick,
    erratic wingbeats
    ; small head barely extends past the


Cooper's Hawk "cap"

by Virginia Kadow

Sharp-shinned Hawk "hood"

by Marie Lehmann

The Cooper’s “cap”

The sharpie’s gray “hood.”

Rounded Cooper's Hawk tails

Top photo: David Lang
Bottom: Gerald Levitz

Sharp-shinned tails

Top photo: Robin Solomon
Bottom: Frank Moltz

Rounded Cooper’s Hawk tails

More squared-off sharpie tails

Cooper’s Hawk – Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk – Juvenile

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

by Diane Gatley

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk

by Diane Marie Goldschmidt

Keys to ID:

  • Finer streaks mostly on
    upper breast; lower belly mostly white; brown back
  • Yellow eyes (adults
    have red eyes); lacks stripe above the eye
  • Reddish cast on side of
    head and nape

Keys to ID:

  • Heavy, bold (reddish)
    on underparts, especially on lower breast and belly;
    brown back
  • Yellow
    eyes (adults have red eyes).
  • Pale stripe above the