Named after the flattened
thin leg shanks, the Sharp-shinned Hawk usually is found in dense woods except
in winter and during migration. Showing strong migratory behavior, large
numbers can sometimes be seen along coastlines and ridgelines as they move south
in the fall. The Sharp-shinned is the smallest of the
"Accipiter" hawks. A young bird is shown in the photo to the
Habitat: Generally avoids open country,
preferring forest land ranging from dense to semi-open. Usually nests in
conifer stands found in mixed forests. Can sometimes be found in urban
areas in winter as it feeds on birds attracted to feeders.
Diet: Primarily feeds on small
birds. Will also feed on small mammals, snakes, lizards, frogs, and
Behavior: Sharp-shinned Hawks often hunt by
observing from a partially obscured perch, waiting for prey to appear, or by
taking prey by surprise as it flies through cover. They are incredibly
swift and acrobatic in pursuing and catching prey in flight.
Increasingly, Sharp-shinned Hawks have learned to hunt around feeders,
especially in winter, taking advantage of the sometimes unnatural
concentration of small prey species.
Nesting: May through July. The nest of a
Sharp-shinned Hawk is a platform of sticks, lined with bits of grass, smaller
twigs, and bark. The female usually lays 4 or 5 eggs, and she alone
incubates them, with the male bringing her food during the incubation period.
When the eggs hatch, the male initially brings food to the young while the
female stays with the young. After about 2 weeks, both parents help to
feed the young. The young fledge after about 6 weeks.
Migration: Most are migratory,
except for some permanent residents throughout parts of the west and in the
Appalachians. Summers in Canada, the northern U.S., and higher elevations of the
West and in the Appalachians. Winters throughout much of the southern
2/3rds of the U.S. and south through Mexico and Central America.
Similar Species: Cooper's
Hawk. Juvenile Northern Goshawk
could also be mistaken for a Sharp-shinned Hawk, although there's a very
substantial size differential.
Conservation Status: Numbers declined in the mid 20th
century due to effects of pesticides, but began to bounce back by the 1980s.
Recent trends again show serious declines in some locations. However, they
still have a very wide geographic range, are common in some areas, and are
increasing in number in some areas.
The IUCN lists the
Sharp-shinned Hawk as a species of "Least Concern".
Cornell University's "All About Birds - Sharp-shinned Hawk"
eNature.com: Sharp-shinned Hawk
Photo Information: November 18th, 2006 - "Sherriff
Dam", southwest of Pierre - Terry L. Sohl
Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or
text links below for additional, higher-resolution Sharp-shinned Hawk photos.