One of the most common tricky bird identification challenges that Birders face is is separating Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. Both hawks are becoming increasingly more common at FeederWatch sites and, to the untrained eye, can appear very similar. It’s not often that one gets to see these two easily-confused species together! During the interaction in this photo, the Sharp-shinned Hawk mobbed the Cooper’s Hawk, much like you would often see a crow mob a raptor.
Seeing these two species juxtaposed next to each other allows you to really see some the features that distinguish them. Notice, first of all, the size-difference between the two. The Sharp-shinned Hawk (L) is noticeably smaller in size than the Cooper’s(R). Next, notice the small head of the Sharp-shinned Hawk (almost comically small), which barely projects beyond the leading edge of its wings, compared to the large brutish head of the Cooper’s Hawk, which sticks out noticeably. Also take note of the spindly, pencil-thin legs of the Sharp-shinned Hawk next to the thick, stocky legs of the Cooper’s Hawk.
For those of you wondering why the Cooper’s Hawk is upside-down in the second photo: raptors that are being mobbed often try to scare away their harassers by flashing their outstretched talons. The easiest way to do this in mid-air is to perform a quick barrel roll to show off the weaponry. In this situation, the Sharp-shinned didn’t appear to be very intimidated!