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Sharp-shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus

Length: 10 - 14 inches Wingspan: 20 - 28 inches Seasonality: Migrant / Winter
ID Keys: Blue-gray upperparts, reddish barring on chest and belly, square tail with black crossbars

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusNamed after the flattened thin leg shanks, the Sharp-shinned Hawk usually is found in dense woods when on its summer breeding grounds. However, in migration an in winter, they can be found in a wide variety of habitats. They've adapted well to a human presence and can often be found near bird feeders, where they are absolutely deadly hunters. 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.  Overall appearance and plumage is extremely similar to the larger Cooper's Hawk, and differentiating between the two species can be difficult. See Identification below for key characteristics for identifying a Sharp-shinned Hawk.


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.


Primarily feeds on small birds.  Will also feed on small mammals, snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects.


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. 


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.


Sharp-shinned Hawk song 


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.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Sharp-shinned Hawk sightings

Similar Species and Identification:

 One of the more identification challenges for a birder in North America is differentiating between a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper's HawkBoth are very similar in appearance, although there are identification keys that allow identification, if seen well.  A juvenile Northern Goshawk could also be mistaken for a Sharp-shinned Hawk, although there's a very substantial size differential. Specific identification keys (and comparison to a Cooper's Hawk) are as follows:

Cooper's Hawk 5 - Accipiter cooperii Cooper's Hawk 4 - Accipiter cooperii Cooper's Hawk 1 - Accipiter cooperii Northern Goshawk - Accipiter gentilis
Cooper's Hawk Cooper's Hawk Cooper's Hawk Northern Goshawk

South Dakota "Hotspot":

Your bird feeder in your backyard!  Literally half, if not more, of the sightings of Sharp-shinned Hawks that I've had have been in my backyard near my feeders, or near feeder complexes in other locations. Sharp-shinned Hawks feed almost exclusively on small birds (finches, sparrows, etc.), and the highest concentrations of those birds in winter are often around feeders.

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".

Further Information:

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.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view 
Sharp-shinned Hawk - Range Map 
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and winter resident.  Uncommon permanent resident in the Black Hills.

Additional Sharp-shinned Hawk Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Sharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk 9 - Accipiter striatusSharp-shinned Hawk 10 - Accipiter striatus