Ask-a-Birder: Hawk ID

Travis Audubon receives many bird questions throughout the year, and occasionally they have some pretty interesting supplementary photos. We received the following questions (and photo) from Crystal:

We saw this very pretty hawk eating a squirrel in our front yard. We weren’t sure if this was a Cooper’s Hawk or a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk; we are curious what you think it is and what features give you the clues needed to identify it?
(Warning: photo shows hawk in the middle of a somewhat bloody meal):
Click here for photo.

Our Ask-a-Birder expert for November 2020, Charles Stephens, could shed some light on how to identify this bird:

Great find and an awesome display of the food chain! 

This is a young Red-tailed Hawk. You concentrated on just the right section from the angle you had for one to see the bands on the tail. Notice how closely the black and tan bands are to each other and the number of them. I can count at least 6-7 black bands in one of the photos. Now, a Cooper’s Hawk will only have maybe 3-4 wide black band visible on the tail with tan-gray as the other color also in wide bands. 

Another thing to note is the shape of the bill relative to the head. The Red-tailed bill is very pronounced and robust with a stout tip which projects down quite a bit whereas the Cooper’s Hawk is not nearly as robust/stout nor does it typically extend pointing downward very far. 

Lastly, though it’s not visible in the photos, the Red-tailed would have a fairly clean breast and vent feathers with a steaked feather looking belly “bib” vs the Cooper’s which would have bold streaked feathers from breast to vent.

Do you have a bird question you’d like an Ask-a-Birder expert to answer? Contact info@travisaudubon.org.