Beak of the Week – Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
Family: Accipitridae

The Sharp-shinned Hawk gets its name from the thin ridge on its lower legs. They are the smallest hawk in North America. At maturity, these hawks have small dark grey head, nape, wing, and backside, light rufous barring on the cheeks, throat, and underside, and fine horizontal black and white barring on the lower two-thirds of the wings. Juvenile birds will have more brown than gray on the top half of their body and will have thicker brown and white vertical barring on their undersides. They possess long square tails with six thicker black and grey horizontal bars, which can differentiate them from Cooper’s Hawks and can help Sharp-shinned Hawks navigate around trees while flying through dense woodland, giving them an added advantage for capturing their prey.

Sharp-shinned Hawks often pounce on their prey from concealed locations on perches, catching prey both on the ground and midair. Their diet mainly consists of songbirds that are robin-sized or smaller. However, slightly bigger birds, rodents, and insects also appear on the menu. Adults will typically bring back smaller prey items for their young. Adult “sharpies” will continue to bring back food to their young for a little while after the young have fledged.

Sharp-shinned Hawks have one brood per breeding season, and will choose breeding sites with denser vegetation, preferably with conifers. Pairs tend to stay to themselves more during breeding season. During migration, they become less solitary, traveling in small groups to the northern section of the Midwest. Sharp-shinned Hawks can be found year-round in many states in the east, and in the west. They can be found throughout most of the US during Winter.

By Sarah Lefoley, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
Photos by Greg Lavaty

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