Arizona Wildlife

Coopers Hawk – birds with yellow or red eyes

Cooper’s Hawks are magnificent and ominous as they perch in a hidden location and watch for prey.  Occasionally, we see this raptor bird’s thick legs with large yellow talons clasped to a branch or our fence.

large bird with spots on chest and dark wings

Cooper’s Hawk hiding in our tree – this raptor was smaller so most likely a male

The Coopers Hawk belongs to the genus Accipiter and is about the same size as a crow.

yellow feet of female coopers hawk

Young Cooper’s Hawk has brown markings on their white chest

In 1828, this hawk species was named after William Cooper, a New York scientist.  Cooper’s are medium sized birds of prey that hunt by sudden dashes from a concealed perch.

bird of prey mantling

bird of prey mantling, juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

The above photo shows a Cooper’s Hawk mantling.  What is mantling?   Mantling is when birds of prey, also called raptors, hunch their shoulders and spread their wings over a kill to keep it hidden from other predators.  We have witnessed hawks mantling while feeding on the Arizona desert ground, especially in open areas.

Note the tail of the Coopers Hawk;  a rounded, long tail crossed by several dark lines with a distinct white band on the tip.

bird with brown markings

yellow eyes and large talons on the juvenile Coopers Hawk

The scientific name for hawks is Falconiformes.  All hawks are classified as birds of prey and commonly called raptors.  The term raptor means to take by force or to seize.

baby cooper's hawk

young baby Cooper’s Hawk

This hawk eats mostly birds, but will also capture mammals including squirrels and rabbits.  In this area of the Arizona Sonoran Desert I’ve seen Cooper’s Hawks occasionally prey upon lizards.

juvenile coopers hawk

young juvenile Coopers Hawk with large yellow feet, talons

Coopers Hawks breed in forested areas throughout North America.  The immature Coopers Hawk pictured above visits our yard.

Cooper’s Hawks build their nests in trees that average 25-50 feet high.  Southern Arizona contains several mountain ranges that host large areas of undisturbed forest which many raptors prefer.

coopers hawk with prey

young Coopers Hawk with prey

Hawk beaks are sharp and resemble the action of scissors.  The hawk’s hooked bill helps them to tear apart their prey.

First year juvenile Cooper’s hawks have yellow eyes, uniformly brown backs and brown vertical stripes on their breasts as pictured above.


older adult coopers hawk with red eyes and yellow feet

The older adult Cooper’s Hawk on our fence shows the tan barring on the breast, dark red eyes and the dark cap on the head.  Sometimes it appears that these older hawks have a grayish flat top look.

Coopers Hawk in our tree

Coopers Hawk big sharp yellow talons

Check out those claws, talons!  There are four, sharp talons on each of the hawk’s feet.  How strong are Cooper’s Hawks talons?  The PSI, which is pounds per square inch, is 150-200 pounds.  An average healthy man has a psi of 110.  According to the University of Michigan, the larger the raptor the stronger the talons.

Birds of prey hawk

look at those claws – large talons of the Cooper Hawk

The Coopers Hawk’s talons, feet, puncture their prey hard usually stabbing a vital organ causing the animal’s rapid death.

The talons are opened by leg muscles and will automatically close when the hawk impacts an object; example…. animal or perch.  It is a reflex!

Coopers Hawk eyes

young yellow eyed Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawks have excellent vision that contain 5 times the sensory cells per millimeter of the retina than us humans. How do these raptors see?  Hawks refract certain wavelengths of light with the colored oils in their eyes.  Certain colors are intensified for the hawk at the expense of others.

red eyes of coopers hawk

red-orange eyes of adult coopers hawk

The light filtration of the hawk’s eyes make the browns and grays of typical prey items stand out against the filtered greens.  The orange, reddish eye color of the Coopers hawk in the picture above tells you that it is an adult hawk over 3 years old.

yellow eyes of juvenile coopers hawk

yellow eyes of juvenile coopers hawk

As they mature, Cooper’s Hawks change color.  After 3 years of age their eyes start to turn deep red and the Coopers Hawk’s back becomes a slate gray with brownish bars on the breast as seen below.

mature cooper's hawk

mature adult Cooper’s hawk

Coopers Hawk females are larger than the males.  Most birds of prey are reverse size dimorphic,  meaning that the female raptors are larger than the males.

Coopers Hawk Adult

Gray wings with tan markings on chest,  red eyes is Coopers Hawk Adult

Cooper’s hawks are known to live as long as 12 years in the wild. Like many animals, Cooper’s hawks are most vulnerable when they are young.  They are monogamous, and many pairs mate for life.  Breeding is once a year with one brood per season.  Most Cooper’s hawks do not breed until they are at least two years old.

The mother Coopers Hawk lays 2 to 6 eggs.  Incubation for the baby hawks is 30-36 days. Click on the youtube video to watch a mother Cooper’s Hawk feeding her 2 week old young.

coopers hawk flying

Coopers Hawk flying, wingspan

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) looks nearly identical to the Coopers Hawk but is much smaller at just 5 ounces.  Being the smallest hawk in North America, Sharp shinned Hawks are about the size of a dove.  Cooper’s Hawks have larger heads, thicker legs and a rounded tail with a white band on the tip.  Sharp shinned hawks have skinny legs along with a squared shorter tail.

See this video to view the Sharp shinned hawk so you will be able to tell the difference from the Cooper’s Hawk.

All hawks are protected by state and federal laws. It is illegal to capture or kill a hawk, or to possess a hawk, alive or dead, without the proper permits from the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Cooper’s hawks are high level predators that help to regulate populations of their prey.

If you enjoy hawks and other birds of prey believe it or not you can adopt a raptor bird.  This is quite an interesting organization!

7 replies »

  1. wonderful information! we live in Chicago and have what we believe are three juvenile Cooper’s Hawks that have taken up residence in our neighborhood. Your photos and information is very helpful! Thanks!


  2. Tj!!! I didn’t know you had a blog…I LOVE IT… will have to come back when I have more time to read more posts..Great job very informative and you always have the best pictures! Hugs.


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