Sharp-shinned Hawks are very similar in appearance to the slightly larger Cooper’s Hawk. Their general form and coloration is nearly identical, and because of this it can be difficult to differentiate the two in the field.

I frequently observe Cooper’s Hawks in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and every time I do I am left with a little, nagging doubt about whether it was really a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk that I saw.

Well, today I was able to positively identify a Sharp-shinned Hawk for the first time. This bird was considerably smaller that the typical Cooper’s Hawk. In fact, when I first spotted the bird I believed it was an American Kestrel, a small falcon roughly the size of a Mourning Dove.

As the hawk drew nearer, though, it became clear it was not a kestrel. It was slightly larger than a typical kestrel, and it had the rounded wing tips of a hawk, not the pointed tips of a falcon. This was a bird I had not seen before. I was stumped.

At home, a closer look at my pictures revealed the Sharp-shinned Hawk’s true identity. Its small size and notched tail were the two characteristics needed to successfully differentiate it from a Cooper’s Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - First Sight

Sharp-shinned Hawk - First Sight

Sharp-shinned Hawk - First Sight

Sharp-shinned Hawk - First Sight

Observation Details

County Denton
City The Colony
Date Dec 22, 2012
Time of Day Midmorning
Temperature Cool (50-69°F/10-21°C)
Weather Clear
Habitat Agricultural-Pasture
Type of Behavior Flying
Gender Male
Maturity Adult
Observer Chris Jackson
Main Article Sharp-shinned Hawk Observation Location