Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk: 5 Differences

Written by August Buck
Published: March 14, 2022
Image Credit Pierre Leclerc/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Many different types of hawks look alike, including the Cooper’s hawk vs sharp shinned hawk. How can you learn to tell the difference, whether it be in their physical appearance, dietary preferences, or habitats? Thankfully, there are some subtle differences between these two birds of prey– but what might they be?

In this article, we will address all of the similarities and differences between Cooper’s hawks and sharp shinned hawks. Once you are finished reading, you should know all about these two beautiful hawks and what they prefer, including their behavioral traits, lifespan, and habitat preferences. Let’s get started. 

Comparing Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
Cooper’s hawks are more widespread than sharp shinned hawks.

A-Z-Animals.com

Cooper’s HawkSharp Shinned Hawk
Size14-20 inches long; 1-2 pounds9-13 inches; less than one pound
AppearanceLarge wingspan with rounded wings; extra long tail feathers. Brown or gray upper body with lighter underbellyShort and rounded wings; square shaped tail feathers. Small head, gray upper feathers with tan or red underbelly
Location and HabitatCentral and North America; forests and temperate climatesNorth America except when migrating; deep forested areas or urban edges
BehaviorHunts in the morning and early afternoon; ambushes prey from camouflaged area, but won’t pursue for very longEnjoys solitary pairs unless it is migration season; hunts extremely low to the ground and is very versatile in its hunting maneuverability
Lifespan10-12 years3-5 years

Key Differences Between Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
The sharp shinned hawk is far smaller than a Cooper’s hawk on average, both in length and weight.

There are many key differences between a Cooper’s hawk and a sharp shinned hawk. The sharp shinned hawk is far smaller than a Cooper’s hawk on average, both in length and weight. A Cooper’s hawk has an extremely large wingspan compared to the shorter wingspan of the sharp shinned hawk. The lifespan of the sharp shinned hawk is much shorter than that of the Cooper’s hawk as well.

Let’s go over these differences in more detail now.

Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk: Size and Weight

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
A Cooper’s hawk has an extremely large wingspan compared to the shorter wingspan of the sharp shinned hawk.

Pierre Leclerc/Shutterstock.com

You can tell the difference between a Cooper’s hawk and a sharp shinned hawk if you look at them side by side. While both of these birds of prey experience differing sizes depending on the gender of the bird, Cooper’s hawks of either gender are far larger than sharp shinned hawks. This is one of the main ways you can tell them apart.

The average Cooper’s hawk reaches anywhere from 14-20 inches long, while the sharp shinned hawk grows from 9-13 inches long. Plus, this means that these two birds weigh different amounts as well. For example, Cooper’s hawks are often 1-2 pounds in weight, while Sharp shinned hawks weigh less than a pound on average.

Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk: Location and Habitat Preferences

Cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
The average Cooper’s hawk reaches anywhere from 14-20 inches long, while the sharp shinned hawk grows from 9-13 inches long.

Julie rubacha/Shutterstock.com

The sharp shinned hawk and the Cooper’s hawk have similar locations and habitat preferences. They both enjoy heavily wooded areas, but are both sometimes found in urban backyards, especially ones that are close to forested regions. However, there are some key differences in their geographical locations.

Cooper’s hawks are more widespread than sharp shinned hawks. You can find Cooper’s hawks throughout North America and Central America, while sharp shinned hawks live in North America until their migration time arrives. These hawks make their way into Mexico in large groups, but they live more solitary existences when living in the United States and Canada.

Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk: Appearance

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk

Wyatt W/Shutterstock.com

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a sharp shinned hawk and a Cooper’s hawk simply by looking at them. However, there are some things you can keep an eye out for in order to tell the difference between these two hawks. Let’s talk about some of those differences now.

The size of a Cooper’s hawk will always be larger than that of a sharp shinned hawk. The head and wingspan of the sharp shinned hawk is smaller than both the head and wingspan of a Cooper’s hawk. The tail feathers on a Cooper’s hawk are far longer than that of the sharp shinned hawk, and the sharp shinned hawk has a square shaped tail.

Both of these birds are either brown or gray, depending on their age, with lighter colored underbellies or feathers. However, the sharp shinned hawk has more red in their feathers when compared to the browner shades of the Cooper’s hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk: Behavior

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
The average Cooper’s hawk lives anywhere from 10-12 years, while the average sharp shinned hawk only lives 3-5 years.

Lilly P. Green/Shutterstock.com

Both of these birds enjoy similar hunting styles to one another. They lie in wait and ambush their prey, giving chase when necessary. However, the sharp shinned hawk is more likely to pursue their prey, while the Cooper’s hawk prefers an easier catch. This is likely because the sharp shinned hawk is more agile than the Cooper’s hawk.

The sharp shinned hawk also migrates large distances every winter, while some Cooper’s hawks do not. You will also find Cooper’s hawks hunting in early mornings and early afternoons, while sharp shinned hawks hunt at all hours of the day. The early bird gets the worm, or the early hawk does, anyway!

Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp Shinned Hawk: Lifespan

A final difference between the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp shinned hawk lies in their lifespan. The average Cooper’s hawk lives anywhere from 10-12 years, while the average sharp shinned hawk only lives 3-5 years. However, some sharp shinned hawks kept in captivity live as much as ten years, which suggests that these birds are more likely to become prey than Cooper’s hawks are. This is likely due to the smaller size of the sharp shinned hawk.

Share this post on:

More from A-Z Animals