Hello! I recently was asked to illustrate a radio segment that will highlight three most commonly seen species of raptor in urban and suburban areas, and specifically the Chicago area. These are (from left to right) the Sharp-shined Hawk, Cooper's Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk.
Red-tailed are hard to miss. They are quite large and are so often seen perched next to, or hovering over highways.
It used to be that Cooper's were quite rare, but in recent years they have gotten quite good at adapting to suburban environments; using bird feeders as their personal snacking buffets. I witnessed this first hand a couple of summers ago when a large (probably adult female) picked off a sparrow from my feeder. Felt bad for the sparrow, but both the hawk and it's surgical sparrow extraction were pretty impressive.
I am less familiar with Sharp-shined Hawks. They are less common then either of the other two, and in fact, their numbers may be declining; possible they are being displaced by Cooper's. This is speculation, though, as I really have no idea. As you can see "Sharpies" look mighty similar to Cooper's. Aside from a couple of subtle physical differences, they can be difficult to distinguish from each other in the field. Sharp-shined are a little bit smaller, have a rounder head profile, stockier neck, and the the bottom of their tail feathers form a straighter line than that of the Cooper's. The outer tail feathers (rects) on a Cooper's are a bit shorter and more softer edged than the inner rects, giving an overall rounder shape.
Once the radio segment is complete, I will be sure to post a link!
* as of 3/9 the original painting is now available HERE