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This bird showed up on the website NextDoor. A bunch of people were saying it's a Cooper's Hawk. To me it's clearly a Peregrine Falcon. My reasoning is:

  • there are Peregrines around here all the time (Los Angeles)
  • the eyes are not red
  • the Cooper's Hawk has a darker head in maturity

Other opinions welcome please.

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  • Hi Rob! Are you able to enlarge this picture to make the details more visible? When I do it, it's too blurry. If not, do you have more pictures of it, or any local peregrines, especially of the head? Even if it's not one, better pictures in the question would be really helpful for everyone to see. Thanks! – Sue Dec 7 '17 at 23:17
  • I can see why you'd wonder, as both birds are common in California. There are also close to ten varieties of hawk in your area, some with very similar characteristics, but I don't see any reason to doubt that it's a Cooper's. – Sue Dec 7 '17 at 23:19
  • There is one other pic I will add that. It's not much better. But it does have a bit of a different perspective. I think for sure it's not a peregrine. I wonder now if I have been mistaking CHs for PFs for years. I first became aware of peregrines when I saw a bird land on a sign 29 stories up in DTLA with a pigeon and it bobbed up and down until only feathers and bones were left. – Rob Dec 8 '17 at 3:56
  • It's a cooper's hawk or a sharp shinned hawk. Different sizes and some small differences in appearance, but it's hard to tell size usually. – Drew Dec 14 '17 at 1:42
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That definitely looks like a Cooper's hawk. First consider this picture of a Cooper's hawk that looks remarkable similar.

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Image Source

The other thing to consider is that in your picture and this one is that they both have dark and light bands in the tail feathers and Peregrine falcons do not have that, at least to the same extent.

Picture of a peregrine falcon.

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Image Source

  • Yeah maybe you are right. The feet also have a longer section from the bottom of the feathers on the CH whereas the PF the feathers go almost all the way to the base of the foot. – Rob Dec 7 '17 at 5:26
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    The usual prominent diagnostic for a peregrine is the dark patch going down from the eye. That immediately makes the OP's bird not a peregrine. – Olin Lathrop Dec 7 '17 at 12:14
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One good way to figure out what a bird is is by going step by step with its characteristics. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has good web pages for this for each species. Note: It is not just the look of a bird that matters. Read the behavior section, as well.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Coopers_Hawk/id#

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Peregrine_Falcon/id#

Another thing I want to caution you about with bird ID is that, it is sometimes easy to want to see a more exotic or rarer species. It is probably human nature.

I think this is no doubt a Cooper's Hawk. They are exciting birds. They are very smart. They used to be hawks that lived in the woods. But, they have adapted very well to suburban life where people put out feeders that attract smaller birds...which, in turn, feeds predators like these hawks.

If you really want to see a Peregrine Falcon, post something here: http://birding.aba.org/maillist/CA06 Or, look online for a local chapter of the Audubon Society to find out how to contact some birders. Most birders are happy to share information like where to find these falcons. I would bet they are nesting on the tall buildings in the downtown area. You can also check Facebook for some local birding groups.

As far as this specific photo goes, look at the photos on the two Cornell websites. Compare the tail of your bird and the other ones. That long striped tail points to a Coop. And, compare the head of the bird in your photo with the other ones. Your hawk has a "cap" of gray feathers. The falcons don't have that. The adult Coops do. Enjoy this hawk if you see it again. They are really cool birds.

  • Hi Janet! Thanks for this very well-written answer full of great information! I see you've just recently joined our network, and am so glad you chose us as one of your sites! I hope you stay here and have fun. If you ever have trouble understanding the way the site works, or using any of the features, don't hesitate to leave a comment and someone will come along and help you! – Sue Dec 8 '17 at 23:50
  • Thanks, Sue. I was happy to find this post and give an answer. Birds, especially hawks, are really cool to watch. – Janet Dec 9 '17 at 15:31
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I heartily agree with everything that Charlie and Janet provided in their answers. I would add one strategic suggestion. When identifying a bird, start with shape. Peregrine falcons have strong wings that, when the birds are perched, give them a 'padded shoulder' look, and they have relatively short tails. All accipiters (including Cooper's hawks) have rounded wings that, when folded, fit snugly against the body and they all have very long tails.

Colors can be deceptive (such as eye colors, that can appear very different in different lighting conditions). It is usually (although not quite always) best only to use broad and obvious colors in identification. In your bird, note the finely-barred rufous underparts that are very obvious--that's trademark Cooper's.

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