Birding Today: Keep Your Eyes Open for the Hawk to Shinned | Lifestyles


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The Sharp-shinned Hawk, or sharpie (as it’s commonly known) is one of our current southerly migrants this month. The sharpie is our smallest hawk with thin paws like a pencil, a head cap and not a cap like Cooper’s hawk. He also has short wings and a long tail for his size. They are easier to spot during fall migration or sometimes at winter feeders.

Distributed in western and northern forests, they make small stick nests near a tree trunk, usually high in the tree. Juveniles migrate before adults, followed by adults. This raptor is the most common accipiter seen in falcon watches. Adults generally follow mountain ridges, while juveniles generally follow the east coast. The species generally winters across much of the United States and Mexico.

These secret individuals will visit rural or suburban areas with some tree cover, especially in areas where grain and bird feeders have been spilled, which usually encourages the visit of small birds.

Even though backyard feeders tend to encourage sharpie, most birds are not taken there, as their food is usually obtained elsewhere. If they congregate around your feeders, simply remove them for a few weeks to discourage their presence. They will withdraw.

The size differences between the sexes determine the prey they can capture. Females are approximately 33 percent larger and heavier than males. After the young have fled, they are fed for several weeks by the parents. As juveniles prepare for adulthood, their parents will pass preys to them in flight. The parent will call the young sharpie after it takes off so it can stand up to grab the prey from the parents’ claws.

The eye color of juveniles is pale yellow, while the eyes of females are red-orange to dark red for males. The flight is fast, the wing beats are jerky and the glides short. While soaring or soaring, the wings are advanced with the wrists bent with the head barely in front of the wings.

Sharpies take their prey to a low branch or stump to pluck the feathers before consuming them. They don’t swallow feathers like the owl. Songbirds make up the bulk of their diet, usually thrushes, sparrows, and warblers. Other prey consumed include shorebirds, quails, woodpeckers, doves, and swifts, with hawks also seen in studies. They will also take voles, mice, and occasionally grasshoppers and moths.

After the DDT problems between 1940 and the 1970s, the number of sharpie remained stable and is believed to be increasing today. Some still have higher levels of DDT in their bodies, even now, as many of their songbird prey winter in South America, where the chemical is still in use.

As nesters, there are three to eight eggs laid in the stick nest with only one brood per year. Incubation lasts about a month with a nesting period of three to four weeks. The young hatch with open eyes and are covered with white downy feathers.

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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