Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
 

Description:

Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest North American Hawks and hunt almost strictly birds, though they will sometimes take small mammals. Like the two other North America accipiter species, Cooper’s Hawk and Goshawk, they spend most of their time hunting in woodlots and forests where their stout wings, long slender legs and tail and keen eye-site help them sneak up on unsuspecting song birds.

These hawks breed north to Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories just south of the Beaufort Sea and South to the Caribbean. They winter across most of the USA and Central America and North to Southern Alaska. Because of their wide range and adaptability they are one of the more common North American Hawks.

Identification:

General: These hawks are small and slender with stout wings, thin legs and a long tail. They are smaller than Cooper’s Hawk with a squarer tail and shorter neck and hold their carpel joints farther forward when they fly so that their heads are in line with or farther back than the leading edge of their wings. Males are much smaller than females.

Adult: Adults are blue backed, with rusty red barring on breast and belly. They have a dark cap with a bright red or orange eye and dark blue bands on their bands and tail.

Immature: Immature individuals are brown backed with course brown streaking on their breasts and underneath their wings. They have dark brown bands on their tail and a yellowish iris.

Similar species:  Cooper’s Hawks have a more rounded tail along with a broader white tip to their tail feathers. Their head projects farther in front of their wings in flight and have substantially thicker legs. Though size is not always reliable, Cooper’s Hawks are substantially larger. Merlins are substantially darker and have slender pointed wings.

Behavior: Sharp-shinned Hawks hunt on the wing, flying through thickets or bellow the horizon to surprise their pray. They are often perched part way up large trees in an erect position. They are not often seen perched on telephone poles, electrical wires, or at the top of trees like other hawk species, but instead spend their time lower down in trees and bushes to avoid being see by their pray or larger predators.

Habitat: These hawks can be found hunting in many different habitats: Woodlots, city parks, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, farm land, riverbanks, tropical rainforests, and many other suitable areas that can supply them with enough songbirds to survive.

Information:

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small, scrappy, compact raptor. Anything that wears feathers and is in the bantamweight class is eligible as prey. Although the hawks may take prey as large as Common Flickers, they usually prefer passerines the size of warblers and finches. In the hunting mode, the Sharpy maneuvers deftly through woodlands, following the contours of hedgerows and moving quickly in and out of breaks in the foliage as it searches for prey.
This hawk was once called a “harmful” species because it eats the small “beneficial” songbirds, but ecologists know now that the Sharp-shinned can take some of the surplus of small birds as they have always done.
The nest is built of sticks, twigs, lined with strips of bark, about 2ft across in crotch or on branch next to trunk, usually in conifer 10-60ft high. A new nest is usually built each year. Occasionally uses old crow or squirrel nests adding fresh material. 4-5 white, botched with browns eggs.

Conservation status: (Least concern)

North American populations appear to be stable and have increased since the ban on DDT and other pesticides. The increase in back yard feeders may have also contributed to their healthy populations in cities and rural areas, because of the concentration of easily accessible food. One of the only serious threats to these birds is the loss of breeding habitat because of deforestation.
 
Capture Rates


Sharp-shinned Hawk capture occurs during migration when it forages in the open woodlands, wood edges and surrounding residential areas of the Colony Farm banding station. These raptors are not caught during the breeding season (June and July) as they breed deep in large stands of deciduous, conifer and mixed pine woodlands. However, capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peak during the fall and winter corresponding to juvenile dispersal.

 

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