Identifying hawks and other raptors


Since the Great Backyard Bird Count begins today I thought it might be helpful to provide some resources for identifying hawks and other raptors. Raptors include hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls–they birds of prey that predate on animals and other birds. One of the most difficult hawk identifications is distinguishing between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks which look very much alike. And these two hawks are the most often found at feeders since they often take feeder birds. The bird on the left is an adult Cooper’s Hawk while the photo below to the right is an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk–can you tell them apart?


Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Feeder Watch website has a page just for explaining how to tell these two hawks apart. Other raptors can pose identification challenges.

The videos below, provided by Peterson Field Guides, provides not only an a very informative overview of raptors but a lot of interesting information about the various families of raptors as well as clues to identification. Just don’t get too bogged down in the details of identification–if you can’t identify all the birds you see, that is ok. It is important to have fun.

And here is a more detailed video on advanced raptor identification by Peterson Field Guides provides guidelines and a discussion of specific field marks for a number of species.

  1. Doris Glowicki says

    This is awesome! I have been wondering how to identify some raptors who fly over my home and could never get a good enough look at them to identify them with the pictures in my bird book. Now I will look at the shape of the underwing and the tail. Thank you so much!

  2. Stella Sutton says

    Thanks for your videos I now know that the Hawk that landed and perched on my Lady Banks Trellis was a Sharp-Shinned Hawk…A great beauty I might add and just about 30 feet from where I was sitting. What a breathless sight.

    • says

      Stella-thanks for your feedback, glad the videos helped you nail the id of the hawk on your Trellis. They can be quite audacious, landing or flying close. They are concerned with birds so if you are sitting still they may ignore your presence

  3. says

    GOT THE IDEA IF I SEE A RAvern or crow at owls how best to distracked them so owls and other can eat without those scavengers after what they caught, p.s. i was told are town denies the use of tires in garden well be fined its leaches patrolliem into soil per san bernadino,ca,. ITS THE LARGEST COUNTY IN CALIF

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