About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
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This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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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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Paolo said...

What about kestrels?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. Sometimes, the word hawk may be used generally to mean any bird of prey other than owls. Although the hawk and falcon are similar in characteristics, there are several features where the two birds differ.

A falcon is one of many various species in the Genus falco. They are characterized by their long wings and powerful beaks that are adapted to the way the birds hunt for prey, by strongly clawing and then tearing the flesh of the captured animal. Falcons, when fully mature typically fly at very high speeds and easily alter directions because their wings are tapered and thin. Falcons are known for their super fast flying speeds and the peregrine falcon is recorded as the fastest flying bird as well as fastest moving creature on earth reaching speeds of at least 124 mph and possibly as much as 168 mph when swooping from great heights.

The hawk on the other hand is a term referring to the bird species belonging to the Accipitrinae subfamily. There are several genera in that subfamily including the Accipiter, Micronisus, Melierax and Megatriorchis with the Accipiter genus being the largest and has the most common hawk birds. In this genus there are sparrowhawks, goshawks the sharp shinned hawk and many more. The hawks in this genus basically stay in woodlands. They hunt by perching for long periods of time and then pouncing on their prey.

Falcons generally have an angular bend on their beaks that allows them to easily break their prey’s neck while hawks generally have smoother beaks with a simple curve as they mainly use their talons to snatch and kill their prey. Falcons are very fast in flight whereas hawks are much slower in flight and would basically just glide on a descent. Falcons are smaller birds than hawks which are generally large but with shorter wings compared to falcons.

Billy said...

Thank you