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Sharp-shinned Hawk


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A tiny hawk that appears in a blur of motion—and often disappears in a flurry of feathers. That’s the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest hawk in North America and a daring, acrobatic flier. These raptors have distinctive proportions: long legs, short wings, and very long tails, which they use for navigating their deep-woods homes at top speed in pursuit of songbirds and mice. They’re easiest to spot in fall on their southward migration, or occasionally at winter feeders.


The Sharp-shinned Hawk has no true song, but males and females vocalize to each other during courtship with a plaintive squeal or a series of excited kik-kik-kik calls. Because they are smaller, males tend to have higher voices than females. Mated pairs call to each other during the breeding season, making nesting the noisiest time for this usually silent bird.


The Sharp-shinned Hawk’s typical call is a high-pitched, frantic kik-kik-kik. It’s used as an alarm call, during courtship, and by young birds just before they fledge. Nestlings and brooding females give a thin, high-pitched call to beg for food when the male brings prey to the nest.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Backyard bird feeders do attract Sharp-shinned Hawks from time to time. Most bird watchers prefer to discourage this behavior, although studies indicate that feeders don’t greatly increase a bird’s chances of being taken by a Sharp-shinned Hawk—the hawks get the great majority of their diet elsewhere. If a hawk starts hunting regularly in your yard, the best thing to do is to take down your feeders for a couple of weeks. The hawk will move on and the songbirds will return when you put your feeders back up. Here’s more about how to cope with predators and pests in your yard.

Find This Bird

Look for these secretive hawks as they move across open areas with their characteristic flap-and-glide flight pattern. You’re most likely to spot Sharp-shinned Hawks during migration, especially fall migration, when they’re the most plentiful raptors seen at hawkwatch sites. Incredibly elusive while nesting, most Sharp-shinned Hawks spend their summers under the canopy of dense forests, occasionally coming into the open to circle in the sky or fly across a field. But they do also visit rural or suburban areas with some tree cover, especially where bird feeders or spilled grain encourage congregation of small birds.



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