Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Vancouver Island, BC

Vancouver Island has a permanent population of sharp-shinned hawks, but it is a rather small population.

The slender, long-bodied sharp-shinned hawk has short, rounded wings and a long, narrow tail. The adult has a dark, blue-gray back and a rusty barred breast, immature hawks have more brown, with streaking on the underparts.

The sexes are similar in appearance, but like all hawks, the female is about one-third larger than the male.

The species is easily confused with the Cooper’s hawk, although it is much smaller and the tail of the Cooper’s hawk is well-rounded, while the tail of the sharp-shinned hawk is nearly square or slightly forked and the tip is not sharply defined, appearing dirty gray.

The breeding season for sharp-shinned hawks starts in April. A new nest is usually built every year, although the same nesting area may be used for several years. Preferred nesting sites are in young mixed coniferous/deciduous forests. The nest is built of sticks, twigs, and lined with strips of bark, it is usually about 0.5 meters wide. It is well hidden, usually in a stand of conifers, against a tree trunk in a crotch or on a major branch. Generally placed 9 to 11 meters above ground, the nest can be recognized as a broad platform of sticks.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Vancouver Island, BC
Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Bud Logan

The 4 or 5 eggs are dull white and spotted with varying shades of brown. Incubation is shared by both partners and takes up to 35 days. The young first fly when they are about 3 weeks old.

Sharp-shinned hawk populations declined in the 1970s due to eggshell thinning caused by pesticide contamination in their prey. Although pesticides no longer play as large a role in the decline of sharp-shinned populations today, the species is still affected by other factors, like the loss of habitat or collisions with glass windows.

The Hawks usually bring their prey to a feeding perch or log. Such logs and the feathers, fur, and animal parts near them are signs that you are in the territory of Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

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