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Nature Notebook – Birdfeeder Hawks

Your backyard birdseed feeders may be attracting more than the songbirds and squirrels. The concentration of small birds and mammals with feeders also attracts birds higher up on the food chain, such as hawks.

Typical feeder stalkers most notably include the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk, which feed primarily on smaller birds. These two can look almost identical from far away, and even up close. While the Cooper’s hawk is typically bigger, a female sharp-shined can be around the same size as a male Cooper’s. These species demonstrate sexual dimorphism which means the female is bigger than the male. There are multiple clues you may use to differentiate the two, however. Sharp-shinned hawks have a shorter, squarer tail compared to the Cooper’s longer, rounder tail. A sharpie’s head usually looks smaller and rounder than a Cooper’s and have thinner legs with a “sharp shin,” hence their name.

With the immatures of these two species, look at the brown streaking on the belly. Cooper’s hawk immatures have thin, dark streaks while sharpies have course streaks.

They are not the only hawks you might find watching your feeders though. I have witnessed both red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks eyeing my feeders this season. While the Cooper’s and sharp-shinned are bird specialists, the red-tailed and red-shouldered have a more varied diet including birds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

The next time you see a hawk snatch a meal near your birdfeeder, just remember you are helping ALL the birds find food.