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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is built for amazingly fast and agile flight in dense forests. These woodland hawks belong to the accipiter genus, whose members have short, rounded wings and long squared-off narrow tails that are used like rudders, allowing them to maneuver through trees and foliage.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest accipiter. The males are about a foot long. As with most hawks the females are almost a third larger. Both sexes look alike: They have a gray-blue back and fine red bars across the chest and belly. The eye of the adult is scarlet. Immature sharp-shins have yellow eyes and are brown with brown streaking on the breast. They characteristically fly with alternating flaps and glides.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are a common migrant or winter visitor, but are uncommon breeders or year-round residents.

They eat small birds and are masters of the high-speed chase. They are often seen stalking a backyard feeder for their prey. They take more birds than any other accipiter and rarely go for small mammals, lizards or insects.

Sharpies generally build a new two-foot wide nest each year out of sticks and twigs. Occasionally, they will rebuild an old crow or squirrel nest. The female incubates four to five white eggs marked with brown for a month; the male feeds her for this entire time.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are generally silent except for alarm calls given if intruders come close to the nest. Other names include chicken hawk, sparrow hawk, bullet hawk and little blue darter.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan September 2012
Photo courtesy of Berlchard