Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

As the morning sun peeks over the mountains surrounding our house near Lookout CA (Modoc County), the songbirds outside my kitchen window are active and noisy.  Today I saw no small birds in the yard and it was eerily quiet – only the sounds of  cows and waterfowl in the distance broke the silence.

Then I saw the reason. Perched on the pasture fence was a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus). All my usual morning companions had taken refuge or flown off. Small songbirds comprise about 90% of this accipiter’s diet. “Sharpies” catch their prey by ambush from a perch or while flying around. Their long toes and talons impale and hold moving prey until  they reach a perch where their victim can be killed and eaten.

The bird on the fence was a juvenile. Accipiters eyes start out yellow and turn red as the bird reaches maturity. Juvenile sharp-shinned hawks closely resemble young Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperi). One of the easiest ways to tell the two species apart is by their tail: “coopers” have rounded tails while sharpies’ tails are squared off. Unfortunately the tail of this young bird was hidden. Size also separates sharpies from coopers with sharpies being smaller. The streaks on a sharpie’s breast are blurry and broad, extending down across the belly. Crisp streaks, mostly on the chest, define a coopers.

Once the sharp-shinned hawk gave up the hunt and moved on, the usual compliment of juncos, sparrows and other small songbirds returned.

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2 Responses to Quiet

  1. Betty Daniels says:

    I know everything has to eat to live, but I am glad when the hawk has a difficult time getting a full stomach.

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