Birds – Sharp Shinned Hawk

(Accipiter velox)


Length—Male 10 to 12 inches; female 12 to 14 inches.

Male and Female—Upper parts slaty gray. Tail, which is about 3 inches longer than tips of wings and nearly square, is ashy gray, barred with blackish, and with a whitish tip; throat white, streaked with blackish. Other under parts whitish, barred on sides and breast with rusty, buff, and brown, lining of wings white, spotted with dusky; head small; tarsus slender and feathered half way; feet slender. Immature birds have dusky upper parts, margined with rufous; tail resembling adults’. Under parts buff or whitish, streaked or spotted with rusty or blackish.

Range—North America in general; nesting throughout the United States and wintering from Massachusetts to Guatemala.

Season—Permanent resident, except at northern parts of range.

A smaller edition of Cooper’s hawk (to be distinguished from it chiefly by its square, instead of rounded, tail), like it, dashes through the air with a speed and audacity that spread consternation among the little song and game birds and poultry, once it appears, like a flash of “feathered lightning,” in their midst. Cries of terror from many sympathizers when a spar-row, a goldfinch, a warbler; or some tiny victim is making desperate efforts to escape, first attract one’s notice; but of what avail are the stones hurled after a hawk that swoops and dodges, twists and turns, in imitation of every movement of the panic stricken bird he presses after, closer and closer, until, at the end of a long chase, when it is exhausted and almost worried to death, he strikes it with talons so sharp and long that they penetrate to the very vitals ? Now alighting on the ground, he rends the warm flesh from its bones with a beak as savage as the talons. If the little bird had but known enough to remain in the thicket! A race for life in the open seems to give the pursuing villain a fiendish satisfaction : let his little prey but dash toward the woods, where he knows as well as it does that it is safe, and one fell swoop cuts the journey short. There can be little said in praise of a marauder that boldly enters the poultry yard and devours dozens of chicks, attacks and worsts game birds quite as large as itself, and that eats very few mice and insects and an overwhelming proportion of birds of the greatest value and charm. The so called ” hen-hawks” and ” chicken-hawks “—much slandered birds—do not begin to be so destructive as this little reprobate that, like its larger prototype and the equally villainous goshawk, too often escape the charge of shot they so richly deserve.

Unhappily, the sharp-shinned hawk is one of the most abundant species we have. Doubtless because it is small and looks inoffensive enough, as it soars in narrow circles overhead, its worse than useless life is often spared.

Cac, cac, cac, very much like one of the flicker’s calls, is this hawk’s love song apparently, for it seldom, if ever, lifts its voice, except at the nesting season. Now it seeks the woods to make a fairly well constructed nest of twigs, lined with smaller ones, or strips of bark, with the help of its larger mate, from fifteen to forty feet from the ground. Strangely enough, the nest is not a common find, however abundant the bird, neither Nuttall nor Wilson having discovered one in all their tireless wanderings. Dense evergreens, the favorite nesting localities, conceal the nest, large as it is—much too large for so small a bird, one would think. A pair of these hawks may sometimes repair their last season’s home, but will never appropriate an old tenement belonging to others, as many hawks do. Late in May, or even so late as June, from three to six bluish or greenish white eggs, heavily blotched or washed with cinnamon red or chocolate brown, keep both parents busy incubating and, later, feeding a hungry family. Climb up to the nursery, and angry, fearless birds dash and strike at an intruder as if he were no larger than a goldfinch.