Telling the difference between sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks

Published 9:00 am Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

Chilkoot Lake near Haines, Alaska. – Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

Chilkoot Lake near Haines, Alaska. – Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

“How are you doing?” I ask.

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. It was Weasel’s birthday last week. I was going to drive to town and buy him something mediocre, but I don’t like sticking my neck out on a limb. The weather, both predicted and unexpected, had roughed up the road enough that my poor old truck would rattle all the way.”

“I don’t think your pickup has any part on it that would be close enough another part to rattle,” I add helpfully.

“Watch what you say. My truck has feelings. They may be rusty, but it still has them. I just filled the tank with gas. That doubled the value. Then I had a manual airbag installed. Anyway, I called Weasel and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. I crooned in a voice smoother than a peeled onion.”

“That was nice of you,” I say. “I’ll bet he was surprised.”

“I couldn’t tell you. I’d dialed the wrong number. I didn’t realize it until I’d finished singing. I apologized to the guy who had answered the phone.”

“What did he say?” I ask.

“He told me that I shouldn’t apologize. I needed all the practice I could get.”



The ground was so cold that the fallen leaves climbed back into the trees seeking a warmer place. I encountered a holey tree. A pileated woodpecker had made holes too big for the tree. I remembered a conversation with a farmer. He’d heard a woodpecker by a herd of cows. He wasn’t sure if it was a downy or a hairy woodpecker. So he called it a dairy woodpecker. I saw some pine siskins. They are cute little birds that visit us in cold weather. They look like goldfinches wearing striped pajamas. It was all good.


You know, Juneau

My wife and I stood with friends at the Shrine of St. Therese near Juneau, Alaska, and watched Steller’s sea lions and harbor seals hunt for fish. Harlequin ducks floated nearby as glaucous-winged gulls congregated into a big noise. It was raining. That’s not an odd occurrence in Juneau. It rains 222 days a year on average in Alaska’s capital city. What seems odd to many visitors is that the rain is rarely accompanied by lightning or thunder. The temperate rain forest doesn’t have the proper temperature inversions to produce thunderstorms.


Driving by Wile E.

I was driving a Mazda Tribute down the highway from the ferry terminal to Haines, Alaska, when I spotted a coyote trotting down the road toward me. The coyote saw me and climbed up a steep hill adjoining the road. It was an amazing feat to witness as the coyote climbed the tall and precipitous prominence. Coyotes are native to North America and currently occur throughout most of the continent. They are mostly crepuscular, but can be active during daylight hours.



“How do I know if it’s a sharp-shinned hawk or a Cooper’s hawk?”

A Cooper’s hawk is crow-sized, on average 14-20 inches long, with the female being larger than the male. It has a thick body, broad chest and lower center of gravity than the sharp-shinned. It has thicker legs than the sharpie. The Cooper’s has a long, rounded tail with a broad white band on the end. It has a dark cap and with the feathers on back of its head often raised, gives it a crested look not seen on the sharp-shinned. It has slow wing beats that could easily be counted and its head projects far beyond the wings.

The sharpie is blue Jay-sized, averaging 10-14 inches long. The female is larger and can be of a similar size to a small Cooper’s male. A sharp-shinned has narrow hips, broad chest, and a center of gravity higher than a Cooper’s. It’s pencil-like legs are thinner than a Cooper’s. A sharpie has a square, long tail, with the outer tail feathers usually being the longest. The dark feathers on crown and neck give it a hooded look. A sharp-shinned has quick, erratic wing beats with its small head barely extended past the wings.

“Why do birds look fluffy on cold days?” Birds fluff up in order to trap air between their feathers and their bodies. This creates a layer of insulation that acts as a buffer from the winds and cold. Many species grow more feathers for winter. Like us, a bird shivers to increase its body temperature in cold weather.

“Where do ruby-throated hummingbirds winter?” Most of the tiny birds winter in Mexico and Central America, but some remain in the U.S., spending their winters along the Gulf Coast, the southern Atlantic Coast and the tip of Florida. They fly about 23 miles a day during migration.

“Why do birds fly into the windows of my house? They hit them so hard.” It’s believed that birds hit windows because they are attempting to fly through your house to either what they see reflected on the glass surface (trees, shrubs, etc.) or from one window to another visible across from it, but don’t recognize that there is transparent glass that lies between them and their apparent destination. I read a study that said about 50 percent of the birds survive after a window collision.


Nature lessons

Pileated woodpecker males have a characteristic red “mustache” stripe. The female’s mustache is black.

During World War I and World War II, the U.S. military used over 200,000 pigeons to conduct surveillance and relay messages.

Young chipmunks begin to emerge from the burrow when they are 40 days of age.

White-throated sparrows have either white or tan stripes on their heads.


Thanks for stopping by

“One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody, everything, every night before you go to bed.” — Bernard M. Baruch

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” — Samuel Johnson


Do good.


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at