Birds – The Sparrow-hawks

(Accipiter), although not the birds so called in America, include some forty-two nominal species, and are generally of small size, differing mainly from the Goshawks (Astur), with which they are sometimes united, by their more slender form, and the much greater length and slenderness of the tarsi and toes. They are distributed over the four quarters of the globe, excepting Oceanica west of Australia and New Guinea, being, however, most abundant in tropical regions. They are found chiefly in forest or well-wooded tracts, and are more arboreal in their habits than the Falcons, hunting in woods or on the skirts of woods or along hedgerows, and usually seize their quarry by a quick pounce. Of the two species found in North America, the Sharp-shinned Hawk (A. velox) is perhaps the best known, although both are common. It is from ten to fourteen inches long, uniform bluish gray above, becoming darker on the top of the head, while the lower parts are white, with the breast and sides barred with pinkish brown or rusty. The tail is lighter in color than the back and crossed by four dusky bands. The immature birds have the upper parts dusky and more or less spotted with lighter, while the lower parts are whitish, streaked with brownish.

This active and daring little Hawk is found throughout the whole of North America, breeding in nearly every state of the Union and north as far as the Arctic Circle, and in winter is found from about parallel 40° N. southward as far as Guatemala. It is one of the most destructive and pernicious of all our birds of prey, since it feeds almost entirely on wild birds and young poultry, only occasionally adding to its bill of fare a few insects, mice, or reptiles. Of 159 stomachs examined by Dr. Fisher, 6 contained poultry or game birds; 99, other birds; 11, mice and insects; while 52 were empty. A very large percentage of the destruction of poultry is to be charged to this bird and its immediate relatives, for when they discover a locality whence small chickens are to be easily obtained, they usually continue the depredations “until the supply gives out, or they themselves meet a tragic death.” It is exceedingly swift on the wing and comes and goes with such suddenness, when it visits the farmyard, that it is almost impossible to shoot it. While it lives perhaps mainly on small birds, it does not hesitate to attack species as large as or larger than itself, such as Wild Pigeons, Quail, Mourning Doves, Purple Grackles, etc. “Its flight when in pursuit of its prey,” says Bendire, “is unerring and swift. No matter which way the selected victim may turn and double, his untiring pursuer is equally prompt, and only rarely will it miss capturing its quarry.” The Sharp-shinned Hawk builds a rather bulky nest in a tree, often an evergreen, or rarely may make use of a hollow in a tree. The nest when outside is made of sticks of various sizes and is lined with small twigs or strips of bark. The complement of eggs is usually four or five, these being profusely spotted and blotched with various shades of brown. The female alone appears to perform the duties of incubation.