Cooper’s hawk Vs Red-Tailed Hawk (5 Shocking Differences)

Thus, many people want to distinguish between the cooper’s hawk and the red-tailed hawk. You can easily distinguish these birds by their size. Red-tailed hawks are larger than the cooper’s hawks. They are also built heavily. Plus, their tail is longer than the copper’s hawk. Apart from the physical appearance, size and coloration, these birds also differ in their habitat, feeding habit, vocalization, and aggressiveness.

The Red-Tailed Hawk and Copper’s Hawk are two of the most prominent North American prey birds.

Thanks to their widespread habitat and feeding area, you will see this types of bird’s in your backyard, lawn, garden, or yard. But, you will fail to differentiate these two attractive-looking prey birds.

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So, continue reading the article to find the actual differences between these two fantastic game birds.

Difference Between Cooper’s hawk Vs. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed and cooper’s hawks are widely seen. They often visit your backyard or lawn, searching for mice or larger prey. Thus, you may be keen to see their distinctions to know which bird is visiting your home now and then.

1. The difference in size:

One of the easiest ways to differentiate between these incredible game preys is to look at their size. The red-tailed hawk is significantly larger than the cooper’s hawk with a bigger physical appearance, wing length, etc.

A male red-tailed hawk weighs around 690 to 1300 grams, more than 2X times that of the male copper’s hawks.

These birds will weigh only 280 to 410 grams. So, you can look at their size and weight ratio to find which bird is what.

Besides the weight variation, these birds differ in their length as well. For instance, an average male copper is 14 to 17 inches long. Female coopers grow slightly longer.

On the other side, the red-tailed hawks can easily grow up to 18 to 23 inches. Females will grow even bigger.

Thus, you can observe the length and size of these raptors to differentiate between them from a distance easily.

So, you won’t even need to catch them and look at the minor details for identification. You may easily look at their size to tell which bird is what hawk in your backyard or lawn.

Red-Tailed Hawk
Source: Unsplash

2. The difference in family and origin:

Although these birds belong to hawk and raptor genres, they have a distinct origin.

As their classification shows, red-tailed hawks belong to the “Buteo” genus. On the contrary, cooper’s hawk belongs to Accipiter.

Like all the species in the Buteo genus, red-tailed hawks have broader wings. They also have prominent feathers and will prey on the ground.

You won’t see these birds catching their prey in the air, which is a sharp difference from the cooper’s hawk.

Cooper hawks mostly have shorter wings. Also, they will catch their prey mostly in the air.

However, you might even see them catching on the grounds if they find smaller species to hunt.

3. The difference in their flight pattern:

Red-tailed hawk and cooper hawk also differ significantly in their flight pattern. The fight pattern of the copper hawk has the following characteristics.

  1. A few flaps at the first
  2. A gliding period
  3. Finally, a few flaps again

You will also see a cooper hawk soaring in the sky. When they soar, you will find conspicuousness in their wings and long tails. This pattern makes cooper hawks truly incredible to look at when they take a flight and catch their prey.

The flight pattern of the red-tailed hawk is also attractive. Plus, they soar at a much higher height than the cooper hawk. These birds may often reach 2750ft or even above it from the ground.

They try to stay in a specific position as they fly high and inspect the ground for hunting.

For this, they will use their headwind. Or else they move in a circle to maintain the fixed position while flying. It helps them inspect the ground better and hunt their favorite prey.

4. Regular habitat:

The habitat of the red-tailed hawk is different from cooper’s hawk. The habitat of these two birds varies because of their prey and hunting strategies.

You can easily see the red-tailed hawks because they mostly prefer living in the open area.

On the other side, seeing a cooper hawk is incredibly difficult. They live mostly in dense forests and woodland and hardly come into open space.

Many people haven’t seen a copper hawk, although they are quite common birds in North America.

5. The difference in their hunting style and diet:

One of the basic differences between cooper’s hawk vs. red-tailed hawk is their diet. Red-tailed hawks hunt on the ground mainly. Also, they will prey on almost anything they can grab.

Their feeding includes small game birds, mice, rats, squirrels, etc. sometimes, they even hunt down smaller snakes and fishes in the water.

On the other hand, the cooper’s hawk, a small bird, will live mainly on the songbirds.

Unlike the red-tailed hawk, they hunt in mid-air and won’t go for mice or rats. They will mainly hunt down robins, mourning doves, and European starlings.

Plus, cooper’s hawk uses their agility and incredible speed to chase and catch their prey. On the other hand, the red-tailed hawk depends on their strength to catch its prey.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is it called Cooper’s hawk?

Charles Bonaparte named the cooper’s hawk after William Copper in 1828. Copper William was a famous specimen collector, and he is credited with collecting the specimen of the birds for scientific research.

Are Cooper’s hawks aggressive?

Copper’s hawk is incredibly aggressive, just like any territorial raptor. If they see any other raptors in their territory, they will attack and scare them away.


Hawks are attractive, powerful, and amazing. And just like every raptor, both cooper and red-tailed hawks are incredibly beautiful.

As the cooper’s hawk vs. red-tailed hawk comparison suggests, these birds differ in size, length, flying pattern, and diet. Despite their differences, they are beautiful to look at peacefully.

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