Even the most seasoned birder gets stumped every now and again when it comes to identifying their favourite birds.

Whether trying to decipher between finches, warblers or owls, each species can present challenges when trying to id them in the field. As is often the case, our encounters with unfamiliar species are often brief in nature often leaving us with very little chance to have a good look for specific markings.

With this in mind, we have had many questions in our Ottawa stores and online through our social media channels about large raptors spending time near their backyard feeders. While raptors such as hawks definitely see our feeders as potential feeding stations, they are not there for the seed inside. The truth is, most of the time hawks found near bird feeders are hunting the very birds perched upon them.


With many reports of this activity lately, many birders have been asking us to identify or help them identify the hawks that have been seen around their yards as of late. With a few pictures and many descriptions, we have been able to pinpoint the majority of these sightings to either Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

What usually follows is a number of questions as to how birders can successfully identify these beautiful birds if only encountered for a number of seconds.


These two birds are very similar in design but differ greatly in shape.  When it comes to adult birds, this will be your first dead giveaway. Copper’s hawks are typically the larger of the two – up to six inches bigger. Sharp-shinned hawks are sized much closer to a blue jay while Cooper’s are typically about the size of a large crow.


Cooper’s Hawk

The head of these birds can often allow for easier identification. The smaller sized sharp-shinned hawk’s head will often appear too small for its body, while the head of a Cooper’s hawk will appear to be too large for its already large body.

Tail Shape

This usually requires a good look at the bird but the tail shape can often tip you off as to what it is you are looking at. Cooper’s hawk tails are typically rounded at the tip while the tail of a sharp-shinned will be quite square, often accented by prominent corners.


Sharp-shinned hawk.


Another of our favourite identifying features are the legs of these beautiful raptors. When it comes to sizing, the Cooper’s Hawk flaunts much thicker legs than the sharp-shinned hawk. Again, this is something that may not always be completely visible but in the event that you do have a great view, this can be a dead giveaway as well.


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