The Battle of the Hawks: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk

Red shouldered hawk vs cooper’s hawk: What’s the difference? This guide will explain all…

There is fierce competition among raptors for food and territory. The red-shouldered hawk and Cooper’s hawk are two of the most common hawks in North America, and they are both determined to be the top predator in their territory.

What are the main differences between Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk?

What's the difference between Red-Tailed Hawk and Cooper's Hawk?

When comparing red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, the first thing you’ll notice is their size. Red-tailed hawks are generally larger than Cooper’s Hawks with a wingspan of up to 55 inches versus 36 inches for Cooper’s Hawk.

In addition, red-tailed Hawks typically have a red tail while Cooper’s Hawks often have barred tails with red patches at the end. Speaking of coloring, red-tailed hawks tend to be dark brown on their backs and lighter underneath whereas Cooper’s Hawks typically look more like black slate above and slightly paler below.

On top of that, red-shouldered hawks prefer to hunt in open areas such as farms or meadows, but you can find cooper’s hawks hunting in wooded areas where they make quick circles before diving down after their prey.

Whether it’s a red-shouldered hawk or a cooper’s hawk, birds of prey provide an incredible spectacle for bird enthusiasts alike!

Key Differences: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk Comparison Table

Red-shouldered HawkCooper’s Hawk
Wingspan3.5-4.5 feet2.5-3.5 feet
Weight1-2.5 pounds0.5-1 pound
PlumageReddish-brownBlue-gray and white
TailBroad and bandedNarrow and banded
HabitatForests and swampsWoodlands and urban areas
DietSmall mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insectsBirds and small mammals
BehaviorOften perches in high branches; vocal and territorialAgile fliers; often seen chasing prey through trees
RangeEastern North AmericaNorth America

Which Is More Common: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk?

The red-shouldered hawk and Cooper’s hawk are both found in parts of North America, but depending on where you live, one species may be more common than the other.

The red-tailed hawk is the most common raptor across all of the United States, while Cooper’s Hawks tend to stick to specific regions such as Hawaii and the western part of North America.

Since red-tailed hawks have a broader scope when it comes to range, they can be spotted in several different climates and locations throughout the country, which makes them more widely seen than Cooper’s hawks.

Not only do red-tailed hawks have a larger presence across the continent, but they also demonstrate unique behaviors that other hawks do not; such behaviors add to their communal presence as well.

Size Comparison: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk

Which is bigger, Cooper’s hawk or the Red-tailed hawk?

When it comes to the red-shouldered hawk vs cooper’s hawk, size matters. The red-tailed hawk has a noticeably larger wingspan than that Cooper’s hawk.

This is due to its mature size being almost twice as large as Cooper’s hawk. An adult red-tailed hawk will have an average wingspan of around four feet with a body that can measure up to 25 inches in length.

Red-shouldered Hawk17-24 inches3.5-4.5 feet1-2.5 pounds
Cooper’s Hawk14-20 inches2.5-3.5 feet0.5-1 pound

In comparison, an unmatured Cooper’s hawk will reach a wingspan of around 34 inches with a body length of approximately 16 inches long.

Additionally, red-tailed hawks weigh more than double their smaller counterparts; red-tailed hawks typically weigh anywhere from one to three pounds while Cooper’s hawks usually run between 8 and 16 ounces.

Although red-shouldered and cooper’s hawks look quite similar, and many believe they are the same bird, there is no mistaking that which species is bigger!

Female Cooper’s Hawk vs Female Red-tailed hawk

The red-shouldered hawk and Cooper’s hawk are two of the most commonly observed hawks in North America. Both species feature distinctive red tails, with the red-tailed hawk flaunting rich red feathers throughout its body.

In contrast, Cooper’s hawk has a gray upper body and reddish brown chest and belly, with conspicuous black eye patches common on both sexes.

Although similar in size, there are several differences between female red-shouldered hawks and female Cooper’s hawks. Most noticeably, the red-shouldered hawk has an impressive wingspan of up to 4 feet while Cooper’s hawk barely reaches 3 feet in span.

Additionally, red-shouldered hawks tend to take small mammals such as mice or voles, while Cooper’s hawks focus more on birds like pigeons or quail during hunting.

As a result of these differing dietary interests and behaviors, they are more often found living in different habitats—red-shouldered hawks prefer heavily wooded areas close to the water while Cooper’s Hawks thrive in open woodlands near fields.

Location: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk

Where Red-Shouldered Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks Are Found

Red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s hawks are both members of the Accipitridae family, but red-shouldered hawks prefer wooded areas primarily in the southeastern United States, while Cooper’s hawks are found throughout much of North America.

Red-shouldered hawks prefer to set up their nests near streams or other bodies of water surrounded by tall trees that can provide ample cover from predators.

Red-shouldered HawkForests and swamps, riparian areas, and wooded suburbs
Cooper’s HawkWoodlands and forest edges, urban and suburban areas with trees and shrubs

Note: These are general habitat preferences and individual birds may have different habitat requirements based on factors such as food availability, breeding requirements, and seasonal changes.

For example, red-shouldered hawks might settle in mountainous forests with dense foliage or along the coastlines in the southeastern United States where they are known to eat lizards, snakes, and crayfish.

On the other hand, Cooper’s hawks inhabit open meadows and grasslands as well as more populated city parks and residential areas across a wide swath of the United States and Canada.

Their diets consist heavily of smaller birds as well as rodents and insects. Interestingly enough red-shoulder hawk sightings have become increasingly rare across much of its range, however, recent conservation efforts have made strides in bringing red-shouldered hawk populations back up again making them suitable for reintroduction into forest habitats from which it once missing.

Preferred Prey: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk

Red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s hawks are predatory birds, but they have distinct differences in the animals that make up their preferred prey.

Red-shouldered hawks typically hunt for small mammals such as mice, squirrels, and chipmunks whereas Cooper’s hawks usually choose to pursue a variety of bird prey such as doves or jays.

HawkPreferred Prey
Red-shouldered HawkSmall mammals (such as voles and chipmunks), amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insects
Cooper’s HawkBirds (including small songbirds and game birds), small mammals (such as squirrels and rabbits), and sometimes reptiles and insects

Both red-shouldered and Cooper’s hawks also feed on reptiles, amphibians, and large insects when necessary. Interestingly, the red-shouldered hawk has been found to rely more heavily on amphibious prey while Cooper’s hawk prefers to hunt birds more frequently.

Through careful observation of these fascinating birds of prey in their natural habitats, we can gain an unprecedented understanding of the way they select their food sources.

Nesting: Red Shouldered Hawk vs Cooper’s Hawk

Differences In Nesting

One of the most recognizable differences between red-shouldered hawks and cooper’s hawks is in their nesting. Cooper’s hawks prefer to build nests in tall, dense trees like conifers, while red-shouldered hawks usually build their nests in deciduous trees at lower heights, as low as 20 feet off the ground.

HawkNesting Behavior
Red-shouldered HawkBuilds a platform nest out of sticks in the crotch of a tree or on a horizontal branch, often near water. Both parents participate in nest building and incubation.
Cooper’s HawkBuilds a platform nest out of sticks in the canopy of a tree, usually 10-50 feet off the ground. The female does most of the incubation while the male provides food.

Both species are cavity nesters, often utilizing the old nests of crows or magpies abandoned from the previous season. Red-shouldered hawk nests can be identified by their bulky platform arrangement made up of sticks and lined with bark strips and grasses, while cooper’s hawk nests are smaller cups lined with dry leaves and twigs.

Nests can be seen from April through June during breeding season as red-shouldered hawks raise one brood per year in comparison to cooper’s hawks who often raise two.

What is Cooper’s Hawk?

What is Cooper's Hawk?

Cooper’s Hawk is a type of red-shouldered hawk native to North America. Its scientific name is Accipiter cooperii, and it is also known by many other names such as Big Red-shouldered Hawk and colloquially as the Chicken Hawk due to its appetite for poultry.

It is typically larger than a red-shouldered hawk, with a long tail and rounded wings that give it a distinct silhouette.

As an opportunistic carnivore, Cooper’s hawks hunt smaller mammals and reptiles in addition to birds. Due to their similarity in appearance, red-shouldered hawks are often mistaken for Cooper’s hawks; however, red-shouldered hawks lack the red cap on their heads that Cooper’s hawks don.

Additionally, red-shouldered hawks have thin and pointy wings whereas Cooper’s hawks possess more rounded wings. At the mating season, up to seven pairs of Cooper’s hawks can be seen in any given area.

What is a Red Shouldered Hawk?

The red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) is widely known and found across much of North America. It can be easily identified by its red patches on its shoulder and red tail band, similar to a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

This large bird of prey typically hunts from an exposed perch in search of small mammals, such as rodents and reptiles. Red-shouldered hawks have remarkable endurance, able to flap their wings for hours at a time during hunting missions or travel.

They are often seen soaring beneath cloud cover or wheeling over fields for considerable distances. It is believed that red-shouldered hawks mate for life, tending to nest in the same area year after year.

Their elegant beauty and intelligence captivate all who behold them, proudly representing their powerful place within the animal kingdom.


Red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are both members of the Accipitridae family and while they share many similarities, there are also key differences between them.

Red-shouldered hawks typically inhabit wooded areas near bodies of water across the southeastern United States while Cooper’s Hawks can be found throughout much of North America.

Diet preference is also distinct between red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, with red-shouldered hawks typically choosing small mammals while Cooper’s Hawks prefer to eat birds.

Lastly, red-shouldered hawks are most often found nesting in deciduous trees near the ground while coopers hawks usually make nests in taller conifers.

Although red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s Hawks may appear similar in size and shape, their differences demonstrate the beauty of biological diversity in the world today.


What is another name for Cooper’s hawk?

The Cooper’s hawk is also known as a Big Blue Darter.

What does it mean when Cooper’s hawk visits you?

The appearance of a Cooper’s Hawk can mean many different things. Some people use it as an omen of good luck or prosperity, while others may interpret the hawk’s presence as a warning sign. Ultimately, it depends on your own interpretation and beliefs.

Do Cooper’s hawks eat hummingbirds?

Cooper’s hawks do occasionally hunt hummingbirds, however, they usually favor larger bird species as their primary food source.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.