Description 10-14" Height. 21" Wing span. The
male and female show a greater disparity in size than any
other American hawk; the female is nearly twice the weight
of the male. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest of
the three North American accipiters.
Fast-flying hawk with a long, narrow, square-tipped tail
and short rounded wings. Flight consists of rapid wing
beats followed by a short glide. Often soars on thermals.
Adult slate-gray above, pale below, with fine rust-colored
barring. Crown and back similar in color. Eyes red. Toes
long and yellow.
Immature birds brown above with whitish spots, creamy
white below with streaks on breast, barring on flanks.
Habitat Dense coniferous forests, less often in
deciduous forests. During migration and in winter, may be
seen in woodlots, towns and parks.
Nesting April-May. The Sharp-shinned Hawk's nest is
usually well concealed in a dense conifer tree, 20 to 60
feet off the ground. The nest is made of large twigs lined
with bark, and is often built on top of an old squirrel or
crow nest. Male and female help collect material for the
nest, although the female does most of the building.
She incubates 3 to 5 eggs for 30 to 32 days, while the
male brings food to her. The female broods the young for
the first 16 to 23 days, and the male continues to provide
food, which the female feeds to the young.
At 3 to 4 weeks, the young start venturing out of the nest to
nearby branches, and begin to fly a few weeks later. Once
the young can make sustained flights, the parents pass
prey to them in mid-air.
The parents give the prize to the first young hawk to reach
them, hovering briefly and kicking the prey outward just as
the fledgling arrives. The young remain with the parents
for another few weeks until they become independent
Diet The Sharp-shinned Hawk feeds mainly on birds,
which it catches in sudden and swift attacks. Its rounded
wings and long narrow tail enable it to pursue birds
through the woods, making sharp turns to avoid branches.
Even small rodents, reptiles, and large insects are part of
the diet as well. The Sharp-shinned Hawk's nesting cycle
coincides with peak songbird abundance.
Range Most northern-US breeders winter in the
southern United States, but some migrate as far as
Mexico and Central America. Some birds in the Northwest
are permanent residents, although they do appear to
withdraw from higher elevations in the winter.
Voice Sharp kik-kik-kik-kik; also a shrill squeal.
Discussion The common name, Sharp-shinned
Hawk, comes from the very thin, exposed lower leg of this
A group of hawks has many collective nouns, including "a
boil of hawks", "a knot of hawks", "a spiraling of hawks", "a
stream of hawks", and a "tower of hawks."
February 01, 2008 9 am I was SWOOPED by this hawk! I was standing under the pine trees
filling the seed feeders as he flew behind the trees and snagged a finch mid-air. He then flew
to the tree in the backyard, within in my view (see picture below) and then . . . all the sudden,
with his prey in his clutches, he turned around and flew RIGHT at me as I stood under the pines
and landed on a branch about 10 feet over my head. The picture above is what I got before
he finally flew away.
A return visit two days later.
I didn't see the hunt take place,
but as I was again filling the seed
feeders I happened to look out
toward the backyard tree and there
it was: the hawk perched on his favorite
branch, just beginning to pluck the
feathers from it's latest kill.
Two months later. April 26, 2008 4pm
Standing outside, I was enjoying the
warm afternoon sun, when the sneaky
little bugger flew through the side yard
landing near one of the seed feeders
Since there were no birds around here,
he flew across to the neighbor's tree for
a look. See below.
Nothing here either.
So off he flew.