This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the sharp-shinned hawk.
If you witness an explosion of birds fleeing your feeders, it may be the result of a sharp-shinned attack. Songbirds make up 90 percent of a sharpie’s diet, which surprises its prey by streaking in from a hidden perch to grab a meal. If one becomes a persistent pest in your yard, taking down your feeders for a couple of weeks may be the only way to convince it to move on.
Sharp-shinneds are the smallest hawks found in Canada and the United States. They are members of the accipiter genus, comprised of forest hawks with short, broad wings, long tails and a typical flight pattern of three to six wing beats followed by a short glide. They are acrobatic flyers capable of navigating dense woods at high speeds.
Like many hawks and owls, the female of this species can be one-third larger than the male. Adult sharp-shinned hawks are blue-gray above, have red-orange barring on the chest, small heads, thin legs and small feet. Immature birds have brownish backs and brown-streaked undersides. Their long tails have broad dark bands with a narrow white band at the squared end. The tail of the nearly identical, but larger, Cooper’s hawk is more rounded. These two birds are very difficult to tell apart.
Sharp-shinned hawks are one of the many bird species adversely affected by DDT moving up the food chain before its use was banned here. Some still have high levels of DDT from preying on songbirds that winter in South America, where this pesticide is still in use.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.