Adults have a dark gray to black crown; black back and wings; dark and light banding on the tail; thick white band at the tip of the tail; reddish barring on the white chest and belly; white undertail coverts. Immatures have variable brown streaking throughout the body; dark and light banding on the tail. 36-52 cm (14-20 in) in length; 74-94 cm (29-37 in) wingspan. Head large relative to the rest of the body; tail long and rounded at the end. As is common in many raptors, the females of this species are larger than the males.
The breeding season begins in early April and extends until late May. Breeding habitat is usually deciduous or conifer woods with nearby water. The nest is commonly in a tree about 35 - 45 feet ( m) above the ground. The male and female build a platform-style nest near the trunk of the tree out of sticks and twigs and line it with wood chips, bark strips, and down. The female lays 3 - 6 (usually 4 - 5) eggs that she incubates for 32 - 36 days. The male usually feeds the incubating female. The young are semialtricial and fledge 27-34 days after hatching. The female provides most of the care for the young at the nest. The male young usually fledge sooner than their female siblings. The young birds return to the nest for about 10 days after fledging to be fed. They become independent of the adults at about 8 weeks after they hatch.
In the Southeast, non-breeding habitat use is similar to breeding habitat use. The diet of the Cooper's Hawk consists of birds, small mammals, and other small vertebrates. It hunts its prey on the wing or from a perch in the forest. This bird is very agile and is able to chase its avian prey through the forest. Some Cooper's Hawks are migratory.
The Cooper's Hawk occurs in most of the United States all year. In the extreme northern portions of the United States it is only found during the breeding season. Some birds winter as far south as Central America. In Georgia and most of the Southeast, the Cooper's Hawk is uncommon but may occur all year.
The Cooper's Hawk is listed as Threatened in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and listed as Of Special Concern in Kentucky and Alabama. This species was previously in a rapid decline because of reproductive failures caused by DDT and other pesticides. As the levels of these pesticides increased in the birds, they caused eggshell thinning. The weight of the incubating adult birds can break a thinned eggshell.
The most similar species is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. In comparison to the Cooper's Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk has a shorter tail that is more square at the end, and its head is also smaller relative to the rest of its body. During the breeding season, the Sharp-shinned Hawk's range usually only includes mountainous areas and the northern United States.