Q. We saw a large, white-colored bird. We think it is some kind of predatory bird. What is it?
Jolene from Boardman
A. Based on the size, it was most likely a Cooper’s hawk. It is the most commonly reported predator seen at backyard bird feeders.
The Cooper’s hawk is crow-sized, 14-21 inches long, with a wingspan of 27 to 36 inches. Females average 20 ounces, males 13 ounces. Males and females look the same, but the female is about one-third larger than the male. The adults have a gray/blue back. The underside is white, horizontally streaked. The head has a black cap, and there are three black bands on the tail. The outer tail feathers are shorter than the rest of the tail feathers, giving the tail a rounded appearance. The immature birds are brown above and vertically streaked with brown below. The adult’s eye is orange to red; immature birds have yellow eyes. Legs appear relatively thick when perched.
Most of their prey is taken while “still-hunting” from ambush or by stealthy approach flights that take advantage of landscape features to hide the approaching hawk from its prey until the last second. Cooper’s hawks are superb and powerful flyers, capable of rapid flight through dense vegetation. Prey may be taken on the ground, in flight, or in trees or bushes. They may even pursue prey into dense underbrush on foot. These hawks eat small mammals, such as chipmunks; birds, including starlings and doves; and fish.
Hawks are able to prey on the birds too slow or sick to escape. This is nature’s way of keeping bird populations strong. These beautiful predators usually stay in an area just a brief time so it is best to leave them alone. The smaller birds soon learn to watch for hawks. If you are concerned about hawks, try placing your feeders within 10 to 20 feet of dense shrubs or protective cover. The smaller birds will be able to fly into the bushes and have some protection.
Today’s answer was provided by Sara Scudier, OSU Extension Certified Volunteer Naturalist. Call the office hot line at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions.