Sharp-shinned Hawk

Hey guys, welcome back. Today, the tiny terror that is the sharp-shinned hawk. The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest North American hawk on average, with smaller males about the size of a mourning dove, but with a longer wingspan. Adults have a steel gray back with a barred orangish breast. Juveniles like the one pictured above, are streaked brown and white. As with most raptors, females are larger, sometimes quite a bit so. Sharp-shinned hawks are in the accipitrid family, and have a typical silhouette consisting of long, slightly pointed wings, and a long tail.

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A young sharp-shinned hawk hunts the feeder area in Central Park, NY

Sharp-shinned hawks are very similar to their slightly larger cousins, the Cooper’s hawk. In plumage, the two are nearly identical. Determining between the two can be a challenge. Size is a good tool to use… sometimes. Like with the Sharp-shinned, the male Cooper’s hawk is smaller than the females. So while on average the sharp-shinned hawks are smaller, larger females can overlap in size with small male Cooper’s hawks. Another hint you can use is the long tail. Sharp-shinned hawks typically have a more squared off tail, although this can also be tough to tell depending on the condition. Flight silhouette is another good tool to use. The sharp-shinned hawk has a smaller head, relative to its body, and in flight the head seldom extend beyond the “wrists” of the wing.

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Sharp-shinned hawk in my backyard in Queens, NY

Sharp-shinned hawks are common throughout North America, spending their winters throughout the US, Mexico, and Central America. In summer they breed up in Canada, although there are pockets throughout their range (mostly in higher elevations) where they can be found year round.

Like other Accipitrid hawks, sharp-shinned hawks prey primarily on small birds that they catch in air. They can sometimes be seen hanging out near birdfeeders. Although most people don’t like this, studies have found that while they may stop by a birdfeeder for a bite to eat, they still get the majority of their prey elsewhere. Personally, I love raptors and if one wants to hunt from my feeders, I say have at it. It’s not often you get to see a predator like this hunting so close up. Next up, a bird I’ve not ever seen very close up. Back to waterfowl and the common merganser. See you then!

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