|Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) 14 inches long
The Sharp-shinned Hawk gets its name from the razor-sharp edges on the front of its legs. It may rarely breed in our area; it's more likely to be a winter resident or migrant. At 11-14 inches in length and weighing about 5 ounces, this hawk is our smallest accipiter. Accipiters are birds of prey adapted for agility in pursuing small birds and other prey through trees and bushes in a brushy, woody or canyon environment. Accipiters all have relatively short, broad wings and long tails and legs.
The larger (14-20 inch) Cooper's Hawk is a medium-sized accipiter that is also common in Arizona. Since these two accipiters are nearly identical in all plumages, large female Sharpys can sometimes be mistaken for small male Cooper's hawks, because the female of both species is larger than the male (as is the case with many birds of prey). Nevertheless the average size difference is generally enough to identify the the smaller birds as sharp-shinned.
The usual prey of the Sharp-shinned Hawk include house finches, house sparrows, and mourning doves. They hunt by making short flights skimming around trees or bushes and then making a quick dash at the victim, or they may perch in underbrush waiting for an unwary bird to come within reach. They sometimes frequent bird feeders, since the seed-eating birds that are attracted to feeders are its choice prey. Often trimming and clearing the underbrush around the feeding area will discourage this practice if you wish to do so. On the other hand, this hawk may help to contain the rapid growth of the population of mourning doves, a very prolific species.
The photo below was taken by Donna Dewhurst during a banding project in Alaska where many of the birds breed.
Photos by Donna Dewhurst were taken during bird banding at BLM's Campbell Tract, Anchorage, Alaska, August 28 2006. Photos used courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.