Photo: Alan Kolnik/Audubon Photography Awards

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus

The smallest of our bird-hunting Accipiter hawks, this one is also the most migratory, breeding north to treeline in Alaska and Canada and wintering south to Panama. It is during migration that the Sharp-shin is most likely to be seen in numbers, with dozens or even hundreds passing at some favored points on coastlines, lake shores, and mountain ridges. At other seasons the hawks lurk in the woods, ambushing songbirds and generally staying out of sight.
Conservation status Numbers dropped in mid-20th century, possibly as a result of DDT and other pesticides in the food chain, then recovered somewhat through early 1980s. Since that time, counts of migrants in the east have shown significant declines again.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Mixed or coniferous forests, open deciduous woodlands, thickets, edges. Usually nests in groves of coniferous trees in mixed woods, sometimes in dense deciduous trees or in pure coniferous forest with brush or clearings nearby. In winter found in any kind of forest or brushy area, but tends to avoid open country.
The smallest of our bird-hunting Accipiter hawks, this one is also the most migratory, breeding north to treeline in Alaska and Canada and wintering south to Panama. It is during migration that the Sharp-shin is most likely to be seen in numbers, with dozens or even hundreds passing at some favored points on coastlines, lake shores, and mountain ridges. At other seasons the hawks lurk in the woods, ambushing songbirds and generally staying out of sight.
Photo Gallery
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Hunts mostly by perching inside foliage and waiting for small birds to approach, or by approaching stealthily through dense cover, then bursting forth with incredibly swift flight to capture prey in its talons. Sometimes hunts by flying rapidly among the trees or low over the ground, threading its way around obstacles, taking prey by sudden surprise.


Eggs

Usually 4-5, sometimes 3, rarely 1-6. Bluish-white fading to white, blotched and washed with brown. Incubation is mostly by female, 30-35 days. Male brings food to female on nest, and may sit on eggs while she is eating. Young: Female remains near young for first 1-2 weeks after they hatch; male brings food, female feeds it to nestlings. Young may move out of nest onto nearby branches after about 3-4 weeks, can fly at about 5-6 weeks.


Young

Female remains near young for first 1-2 weeks after they hatch; male brings food, female feeds it to nestlings. Young may move out of nest onto nearby branches after about 3-4 weeks, can fly at about 5-6 weeks.

Diet

Mostly small birds. Feeds mostly on birds of about sparrow size up to robin size, sometimes up to the size of quail. Also eats small numbers of rodents, bats, squirrels, lizards, frogs, snakes, large insects.


Nesting

In courtship, pairs may circle above the forest, calling; fluffy white under tail coverts may be spread out to side during some displays. Male may fly high and dive steeply into woods. Nest site is very well concealed, usually in a dense conifer (such as spruce or fir) within forest or thick grove; usually 20-60' above ground, but can be lower or higher in suitably dense cover. Sometimes builds on top of old nest of squirrel or crow. Nest is a platform of sticks, lined with bark strips, twigs, grass. Both sexes bring nest material, female may do most of building.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Some in northwest may be permanent residents, but most are migratory. Large numbers may concentrate at some points along coasts or ridges during migration, especially in certain weather conditions, but the birds are traveling as individuals, not in flocks.

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Migration

Some in northwest may be permanent residents, but most are migratory. Large numbers may concentrate at some points along coasts or ridges during migration, especially in certain weather conditions, but the birds are traveling as individuals, not in flocks.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Sharp kik-kik-kik-kik; also a shrill squeal.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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