What kind of raptor am I: Accipiter edition!

If you’d like to brush up on your ID skills before you take this quiz, please read this article by RRP banding station attendant Sophia Landis!


Congratulations on your eagle eyes and raptor ID skills – you passed the test!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Don’t feel bad – it takes a while to acquire the skills and knowledge you need to identify birds of prey. This blog has some good tips: https://www.raptorresource.org/2020/12/29/raptor-id-coopers-hawk-or-sharp-shinned-hawk/

#1. What kind of raptor is Dave holding?

This is a Cooper’s Hawk! Unlike large and bulky buteos, accipiters have a slimmer overall look highlighted by their long tails and short, rounded wings. You’ll be asked about more field marks later in this quiz!

Photo credit Sophia Landis.

#2. How old is this Sharp-shinned Hawk?

This Sharp-shinned Hawk is in its first year of life! Before gaining the blueish-gray back and horizontal breast streaking of adulthood, accipiters have browner plumage with vertical breast streaking. The streaking on all juvenile accipiters is typically dark brown. Eye color can also help indicate age, since juvenile accipiters are typically born with pale yellow eyes that turn orange or red as they grow older.

How do we know this Sharp-shinned Hawk is less than a year old? Sharpies molt into adult plumage during their second summer, which makes this a hatch year bird. Photo credit J. Ligouri.

#3. How do Dave and Sophia know that this is a Cooper's Hawk and not a Sharp-shinned Hawk?

There are a number of ID points visible, but the best choice here was C: A dark cap and a flat, large head. Cooper’s Hawks have caps and large blocky heads, while Sharp-shinned hawks have napes and smaller rounded heads. Members of both species have banded tails and adults have dark eyes, so that information alone can’t be used to differentiate between the two. Similarly, adults of both species have grey plumage and rufous horizontally streaked breasts. Sharp-shinned hawks have blurrier breast streaking, but we can’t use that as a field mark if we can’t see it. Photo credit S. Landis.

#4. Cooper's Hawk or Sharp-Shinned Hawk?

This is a Sharp-Shinned Hawk! It has a dark, uniform nape, a small, rounded head, a very thinly banded tail (most of it is absent due to feather wear), and large eyes relative to head size. Photo credit J. Ligouri.

#5. I have a long tail and short, rounded wings. Rather than soaring over open fields, I often hide in trees, waiting to dart through the branches to snatch my prey. What am I?

My long tail, short rounded wings, and hunting behavior make me an accipiter! While falcons are acrobatic, they have long pointed wings. Eagles and buteos both have long, broad wings and broad tails. They are expert soarers, but they don’t dart through thick brush like I do!

#6. What kind of hawk is this?

My slate grey cap and white eyebrow are excellent field marks! I’m a Northern Goshawk! Photo credit J. Ligouri.

#7. What kind of hawk is this?

I’m a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk! I have brown, vertically streaked plumage and a light-colored eye, which ID me as a juvenile. My crisp teardrop streaking and large, blocky head ID me as a Cooper’s Hawk. Photo credit J. Ligouri. 

#8. I'm the smallest North American accipiter! What am I?

I’m a Sharp-shinned Hawk! While size isn’t always helpful when you see me from a distance, it can be very helpful when you have me in hand. But large Sharp-shinned females can be about the same size as small Cooper males, so make sure you know your field marks!

#9. Cooper's Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk?

My rounded head, dark gray nape, and large ‘buggy’ eye make me a Sharp-shinned Hawk! Photo credit J. Ligouri.

#10. Cooper's Hawk or Sharp-Shinned Hawk?

My large, square-ish head and dark gray cap make me a Cooper’s Hawk. Remember, Cooper’s have caps! Photo credit J. Ligouri.