A crow-sized bird, we often see Cooper’s Hawks at the edge of woodlands where mature trees grow. They have a blue-gray back and rusty orange streaking on white breast, similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks. The easiest way to differentiate the two species is by their head shape and size. Sharp-shinned Hawks have smaller, rounder heads, while the Cooper’s head is larger and flatter on top.
The explosion of Cooper’s Hawks in Massachusetts is a result of several factors. Partly because fewer dairy farms has led to plant succession and maturing forests. Cooper’s nest toward the top of tall trees.
As with so many species of birds, the banning of DDT has also played a role in the bird’s resurgence.
Cooper’s Hawks prey on chickens. They were at one time considered a pest and hunted mercilessly. Because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to hunt and kill birds of prey, and punishable by a fine of up to 15,000.00 and six months in jail.
Cooper’s Hawks also prey on squirrels, pigeons, starlings, and sparrows, all of which are abundant in suburban and urban environments. With their ability to adapt to human behaviors and habitats, Cooper’s Hawks, Barred Owls, and Red-tailed Hawks are rapidly expanding their breeding range in Massachusetts. In thinking about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and in banning dangerous chemicals that harm wildlife, it gives hope to think about how changes in our laws and behavior have had a profoundly positive impact on these three beautiful species.
Most Cooper’s Hawks migrate south for the winter but increasingly more and more are choosing to overwinter in Massachusetts.