Dennis Ferraro with snakeAugust Animal - Cooper's Hawk

Dennis Ferraro, UNL Extension, is also the resident herpetologist at the School of Natural Resources. Dennis writes monthly articles on animals that you might see on your acreage in Nebraska. This month he writes of a bird species; he says that birds are "reptiles gone bad," referring to their relationship in geologic time.

The Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a mid-sized bird of prey that is somewhat smaller than your typical red-tailed hawk. It has wide rounded wings and a very long tail that is rounded at the end. This hawk's head often appears large at a distance. Adult Cooper's hawks appear slate gray on top with rust bars on the under portion and wide dark bands on the tail. Juveniles are brown above with streaks of brown on the upper breast. In flight, these hawks typically use the pattern flap-flap-glide-flap-flap. They are noted to fly low and fast, especially in suburban and acreage areas where obstructions are common.

Coopers Hawk from EOLCooper's hawks prefer forested areas, woodlots, and shelter belts. They seem to be able maneuver around trees in these habitats in a stealthy, yet graceful manner. The photo of the Cooper's Hawk is from the Encylcopedia of Life at

Cooper's hawks feed on primarily smaller birds, but will prey upon small rodents if readily available. In recent years populations have been recorded feeding predominantly on English starlings, one of Nebraska's three invasive pest bird species, rather than native songbirds.

I think the most amazing feature of the Cooper's hawk is the technique they use to kill their prey. Most hawks grab prey with their talons/claws, then begin to systematically bite and rip the food item while on the ground or a perch. The Cooper's hawk catches its prey then squeezes it with talons and digits until it is dead. These hawks have been noted to hold their prey birds under water in a birdbath until the prey is dead.

For those who enjoy observing hawk behavior, establish bird feeders that bring starlings close to wooded habitats. If you prefer song birds and a Cooper's hawk appears in the area, stop feeding the songbirds for a few weeks until the birds and hawk leave the location.