Birds – Sparrow Hawk

In North America the place of the Kestrel is filled by the so-called Sparrow Hawk (F. Sparverius), which is probably the best known as well as the smallest and one of the handsomest of our Hawks. The male is about ten inches long and the female about twelve inches. The former is rufous above, usually with black bars or spots, and varies below from white to deep ochraceous, with or without black spots, while there are two black obliquely vertical bands on the sides of the head. The tail is chestnut-rufous, crossed near the end by a broad black band, while the wings are grayish blue, more or less spotted with black. The female may be known by having the tail, wings, and back crossed by numerous narrow bands of dusky and absence of grayish blue on the wings. The Sparrow Hawk is found throughout the whole of temperate North America, being an exceedingly common species throughout much of the West. It feeds exclusively on grasshoppers when these are obtainable, and may be seen in numbers perched on telegraph poles or other elevated points from which it sallies forth. The grasshoppers are taken in the talons and are handled with as much dexterity as a squirrel handles a nut. When these insects are scarce it feeds on mice, small snakes, and an occasional bird. It has the same habit as the Kestrel of hovering for a short space over a spot where it detects evidence of the presence of its prey. The nesting site of this Hawk is usually a hollow tree, such as the deserted nest of a large Woodpecker, or a natural cavity, and as a general thing is located at some distance from the ground ; but in absence of suitable timber it may nest in holes in rocks, or in banks, using the abandoned burrow of the Kingfisher, and but rarely does it select a deserted open nest of such species as the Magpie or Crow. Still more rarely has it been known to take possession of a dove-cote. Such a case is reported by Mr. John H. Sage of Portland, Connecticut, who found a pair occupying one of four nesting compartments of a pigeon-box, the Hawks living in harmony with their neighbors. The number of eggs laid by these birds is usually four or five, although as many as seven have been recorded. They are mostly pale buff or cream-colored, with spots, blotches, and markings of different shades of brown. There are other interesting species, but we must pass them by.