Sharp-shinned HawkAccipiter striatus Vieillot
Status Fairly common in summer, common transient, uncommon in winter. Breeds. One of our most common hawks. Its range in summer is largely restricted to second-growth evergreen woods, where it breeds and manages to keep well out of sight. In winter it is frequently seen about towns and villages where it comes in pursuit of small birds, mainly House Sparrows and starlings,not by preference, but because of their availability. Migration, largely along the coast and on our southwestern islands, is well underway by early September, but the peak of migration usually occurs in late September through mid-October. For example, over 600 were reported on Seal Island on 8 October 1980, and over 1000 on Brier Island on 26 September 1982. These birds, mostly immatures, leave the province in large numbers and cross the Gulf of Maine. Spring migration is not as spectacular, but small groups of birds are sometimes seen on the move between early April and mid-May.
Description Length: 25-35 cm. Adult male: Upperparts bluish gray, underparts white, barred heavily with rufous; legs and feet slender and yellow. Adult female: Similar to male but upperparts are browner, less bluish. Immatures: Dark brown above; white below, streaked with pale rufous brown.
Breeding Nest: Made of small sticks lined with finer twigs. Usually placed at low (4-10 m) heights and, in my experience, invariably in conifers, spruce being chosen most often. The selected nest tree is usually growing on the edge of a path or roadway in the woods or on the edge of a clearing. The bird usually will leave the nest if the tree is tapped gently, but at times it will not respond to even vigorous pounding. Eggs:3-6, sets of 4 being more commonly laid than those of 5. They are bluish white to buff, distinctly blotched or sometimes washed with rich chocolate-brown or cinnamon-rufous. Occasionally considerable time lapses between nest completion and commencement of egg-laying. For instance, a nest discovered near Wolfville on 27 April 1924 contained no eggs although complete and the bird was scolding nearby. Visited a number of times later, it was still empty on 20 May. On 26 May, however, the bird was sitting on a set of four eggs.
If a first nest is destroyed, this hawk will usually try once more. A nest containing four slightly incubated eggs on 2 July 1933 was undoubtedly a second nesting. Another found on the Wolfville Ridge on 9 July 1966 contained two young about ready to leave the nest, and three infertile eggs. One young flew when an attempt was made to climb the tree. It landed on the ground about 4.5 m from the take-off. Before leaving I placed it on a low branch of the nest tree. Revisiting the site two days later I found both young in the nest.
Range Breeds from Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland, north to the tree limit, and south over much of the United States. Additional races occur in the West Indies and South America.
Remarks Not infrequently, complaints are received from persons who maintain winter feeding stations for birds during these lean months. They report that a small hawk of sorts is hanging about the garden premises; the birds are terrified, leave the feeder, and duck into thick shrubbery the moment the hawk arrives. More than likely this will be a "Sharp-shin." The bird-lover is placed in a rather awkward position. Now that all hawk species are protected throughout the year by provincial statute, it is illegal to shoot the marauder. In fact, few in these enlightened days feel disposed to resort to such harsh measures even if they are equipped with a gun, as many of them are not. What we are witnessing at such times is natural and, distressing though it is, our feathered friends must take their chances for survival as their forebears have been compelled to do since time immemorial. On one occasion I happened to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk kill a House Sparrow in my garden. It was bitterly cold, the snow was deep, and all wild birds were in need of food. As I watched, three hungry, covetous crows suddenly attaked and so harassed the little hawk that the latter was forced to flee for its life, leaving the crows to fight amongst themselves for possession of the spoils.
As another example of the predatory habits of this bird, I once saw one pursuing a flock of about 40 starlings. The sagacious birds, flying in close formation, evidently knew the hawk could strike only from above and they seemed determined not to give it that advantage, for they suddenly began to spiral upwards, the hawk close on their heels but always just below. Higher and higher climbed the starlings, still maintaining tight formation, until the hawk, seeming to realize the futility of its effort, turned and volplaned to earth. Immediately the smaller birds were seen to relax and glide downward, but I noticed they chose a different direction than that taken by their erstwhile pursuer.
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