This morning, I noticed this crafty devil sitting on the neighbor’s fence. He seemed pretty relaxed what with his feathers all fluffed out against the cold, and standing on just one foot. I watched for a few moments and then ran for my camera and binoculars. Even though I was in the house, I’d swear he heard the camera because he put his foot down and looked right at me when I started shooting.
Not wanting to risk being late for work, I didn’t study him for long through the binoculars, trying instead to get pictures, which turned out a bit fuzzy, as the light was low and my lens isn’t fast, but I thought they might be passable enough to figure out an ID.
I’m pretty certain he is one of the 2 accipiter species of hawks that can be found around here this time of year, but the question is: which one?
The Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk look nearly identical, though the Cooper’s is slightly larger. The Sharp-shinned are roughly jay-sized while the Cooper’s are closer to crow-sized. The hitch there is that the females are larger than the males so a large female Sharp-shinned and a small male Cooper’s could be the same size.
Fortunately, I had the neighbor’s squirrel feeder to compare him to. I’ve never seen a crow near it, but I do see lots of Blue Jays hanging around there, and this hawk looked a bit larger compared to it than the jays.
The Project FeederWatch site had this useful bit of info:
If you can see the back of the hawk, and it is an adult, then the color of the nape is a reliable field mark. Cooper’s Hawks have a pale nape with a clear contrast to a dark cap. Juveniles of both species can show a pale nape, however.
The bird in question had the decency to turn his head and in these 2 shots. It does appear that the nape is paler than the cap, which suggests Cooper’s Hawk.
And, so, the question of the day: Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned? I’m leaning towards Cooper’s. Any of my birding friends out there want to weigh in? I’d love to know for sure.
If I’m way off, you can tell me that too.