One of the toughest raptor distinctions for me is Cooper’s versus Sharp-shinned Hawk (Sharpie). A solid ID depends on a number of things, including a good view of the tail colors and shape, the streaking on the plumage, and the bird’s relative size. All of those features can also vary by age and sex.
I shot this image of a Sharpie or Cooper’s at Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery last week (San Rafael, California), and ran the photo by my resident expert, Bird Master. She thought it was a Sharpie, but couldn’t say with certainty in the absence of a more detailed photo. So, for now, I’m saying Sharp-shinned Hawk but I’m open to an ID of Cooper’s if you believe I’ve made that designation in error.
Both Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are bird hunters. I’ve witnessed a Cooper’s shoot through a maze of branches in pursuit of its prey — in that particular case, missing her targeted finch. Those who keep bird feeders will, at some point, probably find a Cooper’s or a Sharpie eyeing the visiting birds. If you have bird feeders, it’s a good idea to provide cover for the feeding birds — thick trees or shrubs where birds can ditch if they perceive danger, like that of a nearby hawk.
This particular hawk was perched on a tombstone in a torrent of rain, fluffing and preening with little concern for my lens.