Fauna of the Week--Sharp-Shinned Hawk
For a moment, there is stillness. The songbirds are suddenly quiet. The mentally idle...
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a bit of a specialist. It has, in recent years, acquired a habit of taking advantage of birds that congregate around bird feeders, to the extent that some populations no longer bother flying south for winter. In my own yard, the only ones who congregate without paying attention are the immature and the Mourning doves. Since sharp-shinned hawks generally prey on small birds, insects and small mammals, I was a little surprised about the number of dopey doves who were ending up as piles of feathers either in my yard, or in the cemetery behind me.
Until I got the picture at left and did a little research. For several years I've been shooting (with a camera, people!) sharp-shinned hawks, with their relatively small size being one of my first clues as to who was skulking around the yard. This baby was much larger. She is at the top of a nicely mature hemlock, roughly 70 feet tall. "She" is important here. Apparently, the female sharp-shinned hawk can reach nearly double the weight of the puny little males I've been taking pictures of. No doubt she is responsible for the demise of the dopey doves.
The Sharp-shinned hawk, like many other birds of prey, prefers to nest in dense stands of trees, usually with conifers in the mix. The nest is a flat platform of twigs and bark, generally shaded from above. The female will lay up to 5 eggs which are incubated for more than a month. After the young leave the nest, adults will pass food to them in mid-air. That's one way of making the teenagers pay attention!
These hawks get their name from the exposed, featherless lower leg. They have a whole host of other names, however, like "pigeon hawk," "sparrow hawk," "bird hawk"--- I think I'm spotting a trend, here! Ninety percent of their diet is birds. The largest of their recorded prey is the ruffed grouse, which probably outweighed that particular female by a good 4 ounces. Sharp-shinned hawks weigh anywhere from 3 to 8 ounces. (Very little bird inside big feathers!) They dwell year-round in the Appalachian Mountains.