Sharp-Shinned Hawk

(Accipiter Striatus)

Sharp-shinned hawks are one species that may be a common visitor to your backyard.

As you learn to identify this species, you wont confuse it with its larger cousin the Cooper's Hawk

A small hawk, the Sharpie is a regular visitor to bird feeders, where it eats birds, not seed.

The male and female show a greater disparity in size than any other American hawk; the female is nearly twice the weight of the male.

Adult Description:

Small hawk.

Tail long, barred, and ends with a square tip.

Wings short and rounded.

Adults with blue-gray back and wings, reddish barring on underparts.

Female Description:

Adult female somewhat browner on back and less heavily barred than male and much larger, almost twice the size of a male.

All adults have red eyes.

Immature Description:

Juveniles brown on back and wings. Underparts with coarse brown streaks. Thin white eyestripe. Underwing white with dark brown barring.

Eyes are yellow.

General Description:

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest of the three North American accipiters. The female is larger than the male.

Adults have solid gray upperparts and barred, reddish-brown underparts.

Their long, square tails have gray and black bars with very narrow, white tips. Their eyes are red. Immature birds are brown above with diffuse brown streaking below; they have yellow eyes.

Males are 24 to 27 cm long and weigh 87 to 114 g. Females are larger, measuring 29 to 34 cm in length and weighing 150 to 218 g. Males have a wingspan of 53 to 56 cm and females 58 to 65 cm.

Average weight American (3.06 to 7.67 oz; avg. 5.37 oz), size (9.45 to 13.39 in), and wingspan (20.87 to 25.59 in)

Sharp-shinned hawks have bluish-gray to slate colored upperparts, with darker coloration on the crown. Their underparts are white with brown bars and their short, rounded wings are dark above and light below.

Females have fewer bars on the breast, and their upper parts are more brownish. Sharpies have a short, dark colored, hooked beak and yellow legs and feet. Their tail is square-tipped when not spread and has three to five dark stripes with a small white stripe on the tip. Molting does not change the adult’s appearance. Juveniles have more streaking and/or barring and paler coloration than adults. Sharp-shinned hawks look similar to Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) but are smaller.

Sharpies can live as long as 13 years in the wild and become sexually mature at age two.

Sharpies have short, rounded wings that are set slightly more forward on their bodies than those of the larger, but similar-looking, Cooper's Hawk. Their heads are also relatively smaller and their gray caps less distinct than the Cooper's.

The white tip of the tail of the Cooper's Hawk is usually wider than that of a Sharpie, especially in the fall. All of these differences are subtle, making it quite difficult to distinguish a male Cooper's Hawk from a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Geographic Range:

Sharpies can be found throughout much of North America, including Mexico. In South America, they are found from Venezuela to northern Argentina.

Most of the North American populations migrate to the southern parts of their range in winter.

Their home range is usually between 0.9 and 2.8 square km.


These small hawks inhabit coniferous or mixed woodlands, avoiding open country. While Cooper's Hawks appear to prefer deciduous forests, Sharpies appear to prefer coniferous forests.

During winter, they are often found in woodlots, towns, and parks.


Built to move quickly and quietly within dense forest, the hunting Sharp-shinned Hawk approaches its prey stealthily, until it is close enough to overcome its target with a burst of speed.

This agility allows the bird to hunt successfully around bird feeders.

The secretive traits and inconspicuous nature that allow the Sharp-shinned Hawk to surprise its prey also make it difficult to observe.

Sharpies often have a plucking post near their nests, where they go to pluck feathers from prey, leaving an accumulation of feathers and whitewash at the base of a stump, fence post, or fallen tree.


Small birds (sparrow-sized up to robins and occasionally quail) are the most common prey, although small rodents, reptiles, and large insects are part of the diet as well.

The Sharpie's nesting cycle coincides with peak songbird abundance.

Mating and Nesting:

Due to the secretive nature of these hawks, little is known about their mating behavior.

They are known to have courtship flights and are presumed to be monogamous.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk's nest is usually well concealed in a dense conifer tree, 20 to 60 feet off the ground. The nest is made of large twigs lined with bark, and is often built on top of an old squirrel or crow nest.

Male and female help collect material for the nest, although the female does most of the building. She incubates 3 to 5 eggs for 30 to 32 days, while the male brings food to her. The female broods the young for the first 16 to 23 days, and the male continues to provide food, which the female feeds to the young.

At 3 to 4 weeks, the young start venturing out of the nest to nearby branches, and begin to fly a few weeks later. Once the young can make sustained flights, the parents pass prey to them in mid-air. The young remain with the parents for another few weeks until they become independent.

Migration Status:

Sharp-shinned Hawks are migratory, sometimes traveling long distances between breeding and wintering grounds. Most northern-US breeders winter in the southern United States, but some migrate as far as Mexico and Central America. Some birds in the Northwest are permanent residents, although they do appear to withdraw from higher elevations in the winter.

Conservation Status:

Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers dropped in the mid-20Th Century as a result of eggshell thinning due to DDT. They were also easy, convenient targets at hawk migration points. The banning of DDT and changing attitudes towards predators have enabled the Sharp-shinned Hawk to recover well, although new declines have been discovered in some areas in the past few decades. These declines may be due to a variety of factors, including environmental contaminants, reduced prey supply, and habitat changes.

In some regions of North America they are still threatened or endangered species.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks and Other Common Birds

Cooper's Hawk

Birds of he Bible

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