Sharp-shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus
Sharp-shinned Hawk specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is often confused with its slightly larger relative, the Cooper’s Hawk. Both species are blue-gray above and streaked rusty-red below with long tails, yellow legs, and small, hooked beaks. However, the Sharp-shinned Hawk has a squared-off tail (Cooper’s Hawks have rounded tails), and is slightly smaller at 10-14 inches long. The Sharp-shinned Hawk displays the greatest difference in size between males and females (called sexual dimorphism) of any raptor in North America, with females weighing almost twice as much as males. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is also a more local breeder than the Cooper’s Hawk. While that species breeds across the United States and southern Canada, the Sharp-shinned Hawk’s main breeding range is restricted to the Canadian sub-arctic and higher elevation areas of the Appalachians and Rockies. This species migrates south in winter, when it may be found more widely across the U.S. In its range, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is among the most adaptable raptors. While usually found in forest habitats, this species has expanded into human-altered landscapes and now frequents towns and suburbs as well. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, like all ‘bird hawks,’ is capable of hunting birds (on the ground, in trees, or in flight) from the air. This species frequently enters yards to take small songbirds from feeders. With the aid of binoculars, Sharp-shinned Hawks may be seen perched in trees while scanning for prey. However, they are often more easily seen in the air while moving between perches or while actively hunting. As this species hunts by sight, it is only active during the day.

DC Information

Common migrant and uncommon winter visitor. Migrates through this area from February to May and September to November, in large numbers along ridge tops and coasts. In winter, found in hedgerows and wood margins. The female is larger than the male.

Specimen Information

The bird on the right is an adult; the bird on the left is a juvenile.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Sound from xeno-canto. XC48408 Accipiter erythronemius (Rufous-thighed Hawk)