Winter is a great time for watching raptors – they’re more easily visible with the leaves off the trees, they are often seen sitting on wires hunting for prey, and with the winter hunger, coopers and sharpies are more often seen at our bird feeders (they eat smaller birds after all).
But determining if you have a “sharpie” or a “coops” can be tricky since they look so similar. Additionally, they don’t sit out in the open too frequently – they are the stealth hunters of the forest with agile bodies that can move like lightning through branches in pursuit of prey.
The Coopers hawk in the photo here was eyeing our platform bird feeder and no doubt has had some success there – I was lucky it stayed long enough for a shot.
But how do you tell the difference between a Coopers and a Sharpie?
My first inclination is to first look at size and then tail shape. If I’m still stumped, then I inspect further. Luckily, Cornell Lab of Ornithology has put together a nice side-by-side Coopers vs Sharp-shinned tip page on the clues and markings that can help you figure out which bird it is.