About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What is the smallest hawk in North America?

I don’t see this bird very often so it’s a treat when he showed up in the tree outside my window recently. A little larger than a BlueJay, the Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) looks like a mini Cooper’s Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawk in North America. The name Sharp-shinned comes from the long and narrow appearance of the hawk’s legs just above its toes.

Adults have blue-gray backs, with narrow, horizontal red-orange bars on the breast and red eyes. Immature sharpies are mostly brown, with coarse vertical streaks on white belly and yellow eyes. Female Sharp-shinned Hawks are about a third bigger and heavier than males. Both the adults and young have broad dark bands across their long square-tipped tails.

Due to the secretive nature of sharp-shinned hawks, little is known about their mating behavior. They have courtship flights and are presumed to be monogamous. The breeding season of sharp-shinned hawks corresponds with the time of maximum prey availability which is usually between late March and June. Ninety percent of their diet consists of smaller birds like sparrows that they hunt for in the forest but I’ve seen them  near a feeding station occasionally in the winter.

On average they have one brood per year and lay 4 to 5 white or bluish eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts about a month, and the eggs hatch within one to two days of each other. Females do most of the incubating, and males will provide food for females while they are on the nest.

After hatching, the chicks are fed in the nest for two weeks and near the nest for another 21 to 32 days. Then the juveniles are shown how to hunt.

The longest recorded lifespan for a sharp-shinned hawk is 13 years. However, most do not live longer than 3 years due to predators, hunting and collisions with cars and buildings.

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