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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Common Name: Sharp-Shinned Hawk.

Scientific Name: Accipiter Striatus.

What to look for?  Sharp-Shinned Hawks have distinctive proportions: long, featherless legs, short wings, and very long tails. Sharp-Shinned Hawks exhibit different adult and juvenile plumage. Adults have blue-gray upper-parts and white underparts with rufous barring. They also have whitish throats. Their long, square-tipped tail is alternately dark- and light-gray banded. The eyes of Sharp-Shinned Hawks darken from yellow (in first-year birds) to orange, and then to red in older adults. Juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawks have brown upper-parts, and cream-colored underparts that often are heavily streaked with reddish brown on the breast and belly. They have long, featherless, yellow legs with long toes and talons. Of note, Sharp-Shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are quite similar and difficult to differentiate.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Sharp-Shinned Hawks may be here all year long. They like to perch in the trees around our ponds and yards and occasionally will swoop across our yards and fields in pursuit of prey. Sometimes, you will experience a blur of motion, followed by a flurry of feathers.

How big are they? The Sharp-Shinned Hawk averages around nine (9) to twelve (12) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately twenty (20) to twenty-six (26) inches. They weigh in at around five (5) to eight (8) ounces. Female Sharp-Shinned Hawks are larger than males.

What are their flight patterns? Sharp-Shinned Hawks are agile and acrobatic fliers. They fly with a characteristic “flap-flap-glide” pattern: typically, several shallow wingbeats followed by a short glide. They navigate dense woods at high speeds by using their long tail as a rudder. In open areas, they fly very low, hugging ground contours to remain hidden to prey until the last moment.

How else do they behave? Sharp-Shinned Hawks are “pursuit hunters”, often surprising their prey on the wing by bursting out with a rush of speed from a hidden perch. During their breeding season, they are quiet, elusive, and nest in solitary pairs under deep forest cover. Sharp-Shinned Hawks travel in small groups during migration.

What’s for dinner? Sharp-Shinned Hawks dine on birds, primarily songbirds. A small portion of their diet will include large insects, frogs, lizards, and small mammals.

Where do they take up residence? Sharp-Shinned Hawks are birds of the forest and forest edge, requiring dense woodlands or forest, ideally with a closed canopy, for breeding. In winter, these hawks reside in somewhat more open habitats, as well as in suburban areas with bird feeders. They are found across the U.S. and Canada.

When and where do they breed and nest? The breeding range of the Sharp-shinned Hawk extends from the norther U.S. and throughout Canada. The nest is always placed under dense forest cover, usually toward the top of a tall tree, but well under the canopy. Pairs typically return to the same nesting area year after year, but rarely use the same nest. The nest is a broad, flat platform-like mass of dead twigs, usually anchored between horizontal limbs and the tree trunk. Females lay around five (5) eggs. Incubation is completed in approximately five (5) weeks. The young leave the nest about four (4) weeks after hatching and can fly at about six (6) weeks.

Where do they migrate? The migration habits of Sharp-Shinned Hawks range from being a permanent   resident to that of a long-distance migrant. These accipiter hawks in the Appalachians and Western mountains may remain there year-round, whereas those hawks that breed in the northern U.S. and the boreal forests of Canada leave their breeding grounds and may winter in the rest of the continental United States or migrate as far as southern Central America. Sharp-Shinned Hawks travel as individuals, not in flocks.

What is their conservation status? TThere is no concern. Sharp-Shinned Hawk numbers appear to have remained stable over the past five decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 700,000 with 49% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 40% in Canada, and 14% in Mexico. The species rates a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. The species is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The Sharp-Shinned Hawk’s typical call is a high-pitched, frantic ‘kik-kik-kik’. Mated pairs call to each other during the breeding season, making nesting the noisiest time for this usually silent bird. Here is a link to the sounds of the Sharp-Shinned Hawk.

Interesting Facts About the Sharp-Shinned Hawk:

  • Sharp-Shinned Hawks are named for their sharply keeled, featherless lower legs; A.K.A. Sharpie, Sharpshin, Blue Darter.

  • Female Sharp-Shinned Hawks are about a third bigger and heavier than males - a typical pattern for many hawks and owls, but otherwise rare in the bird world.

  • The oldest recorded Sharp-shinned Hawk was approximately 12 years old.

For more information on the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, Feeder Watch, Bird Web, and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association. And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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