This Sharp-shinned Hawk was keeping a close eye on the feeders in this Brentwood yard on November 10, 2012. Photos by Eric White.
Posted by Matthew Sim
It was a bright, sunny winter afternoon in Calgary, nearly two years ago to the day. I had just retreated from a chilly walk around my neighborhood and was warming up when I happened to glance out the upstairs window. Upon doing so, I noticed a strange shape down on the snow. It took me a minute to figure it out, but once I realized what I was looking at, the story began to come together piece by piece. See what you come up with.
When you looked at this shot, you might have said that you see a bird’s impression in the snow. You would have been right. Now, you might have been a little more specific and described seeing a raptor’s impression. If you got this far, you did great. It’s not very easy to deduce much else. However, some may have gone even further, observing the shape of the raptor, comparing with descriptions in field guides and creating a list of possible suspects based on the fact that this was taken in Calgary, during the winter. If you came up with a few possible suspects, great work. But did you go any further?
If you did, you might have come up with a Sharp-shinned Hawk. You would be right. The wings are too rounded for Merlin or any other falcon, shape too small and body shape not to the right proportions of a buteo such as a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk and the shape is once again far too small for either an eagle or a goshawk. Therefore it must be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. My neighborhood in Calgary has a healthy population of 4-6 Sharp-shinned Hawks so this make sense. From here, we can piece together a story,
Imagine a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying maybe 30-40 feet high, perhaps a little lower, circling at times. From its vantage, the raptor notices a small movement in the fresh snow below. Diving down, it attempts to nab a vole caught out in the open, plunging deep into the unmarked snow. Then what? Tough to say, and it will be a great mystery; we can only speculate at the final result but here is a breakdown of the photo.
I still wonder about the impression in the top right; what happened? Did the vole escape the hawk’s clutches the first time only to succumb to the second attempt? Did the hawk attempt to lift off without getting enough momentum the first go? Or was the impression in the corner caused by snow falling off a tree limb?
It was quite interesting to see all the same, regardless of what the result was.
Posted by Matthew Sim
The other day, I was sitting outside in my yard, soaking up some sunshine when I heard a big commotion coming from the spruce tree in my yard. There were Grackles, Robins, Blue Jays, Pine Siskins, Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches all making as much noise as they possibly could. The reason? Look at the photo below; do you see anything?
How about now?
Though the Sharp-shinned hawk was rather well hidden, it couldn’t hide from the neighborhood birds who know all too well what will happen if they leave this predator undisturbed.
Here are some more photos of this beautiful bird.
Recently both Pat and Dan have posted about Sharp-shinned Hawks in their yard. Now it’s my turn. Last week we had our first ever accipiter in our SE Calgary yard, a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk that stopped here briefly.
It took me a while to figure out whether it was a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk, but it actually is almost identical to the one Pat posted about here and here, and which was identified as a juvenile Sharp-shinned. The bird that Dan saw was an adult, and you can read about it here.
The hawk was followed by about forty Black-billed Magpies, but they didn’t mob it. While it sat on our fence, they just kept their distance in a nearby poplar. But when the hawk left, they followed.
About twenty of the magpies that were following the hawk.
Unlike Dan’s hawk, my bird didn’t take any of the hundred or so small birds that were around my feeders at the time. It just rested on the fence for three or four minutes, then flew off, and I haven’t seen it again.
Gus Yaki saw these pictures and said that he believes he has seen this same individual several times this autumn and winter in Fish Creek Park and along the Bow River. It is distinctive because of the prominent white tips to the back feathers, which is unusual in this species.
A view of the bird’s back, showing large white areas on the feather tips.
It was certainly exciting to see this bird, even if it was only for a few minutes, and it’s one more species for the yard list.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
I’ve been dabbling in bird feeding since February of this year, and have had my ups and downs, but I’ve chalked it up to experience, and I think I’ve got it mostly figured out. I’ve also got a few ideas for feeders come springtime, such as an oriole feeder, and setting up some hanging baskets and a hummingbird feeder to try to lure some more colorful birds in.
While my yard list is nowhere near as impressive as that of Pat Bumstead, in the last year I’ve managed to lure in House Sparrows, a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, a few Northern Flickers, the ever present Black-capped Chickadees, the odd House Finch or three, Black-billed Magpies, and of course, Rock Pigeons, which I’ve come to expect will regularly pick up the castoff seeds that the other birds throw onto the ground.
I live fairly close to downtown, and twice now I’ve been surprised to hear the sparrows, chickadees and magpies harassing something just outside, and the second time I heard it start up, I had my camera handy and was able to get outside and snap some shots.
In my research, I discovered that it’s not entirely uncommon or unheard of to find that a Sharp-shinned Hawk has taken down one of the birds at your feeder, and that in some cases they can stalk a feeder for days or weeks if it tends to be a reliable food source for them. Both times it appeared that it took down one of the House Sparrows, and each time it took nearly a week before my feeders were back to the numbers I’m used to seeing, so the birds probably have a decent memory for this sort of thing.
I often wonder how many other times birds have been taken at my feeders. Not only by these hawks, but by others, maybe Cooper’s Hawks, or even one of the neighborhood cats that I see wandering every once in a while.
The photos below are of one of these events. This Sharp-shinned Hawk took down a House Sparrow in one of the bushes next door, flew across the street with it, and then, as the Black-billed Magpies harassed it, it flew into the walkway between my house and my neighbor’s, allowing me to get close enough to watch it feeding. A warning though: some of these photos are fairly graphic, so if you’re averse to seeing “nature red in tooth and claw”, you may not want to look. Otherwise… enjoy?
After the initial kill, the Sharp-shinned Hawk flew across the street, where I was able to take these pictures from behind a parked car. The magpies harassed it until it flew back across the street, and into the walkway.
A car pulled up on the street out front, once again disturbing the hawk from its meal. It hopped up on the fence to finish it off, but it wasn’t too long before the Black-billed Magpies found it and started harassing again.
No matter. The Sharp-shinned Hawk finished its meal despite the annoyance, and flew off to the east. I wonder if I’ll see him again some time soon?
Posted by Dan Arndt
I flew in to Calgary from Houston last Friday night and was greeted by snow on the ground! Something that I haven’t seen since April. Never thought that I would be so excited to see snow. My first day back, Saturday, I took a walk around my neighborhood and was fortunate enough to see most of the locals; no not the neighbors, the birds.
First thing in the morning, I woke to see several Black-billed Magpies jumping and hollering about in the willow. Several Common Ravens flew overhead and 2 pairs of Chickadees visited the feeders. I was very happy to see the Black-capped Chickadees, nothing can compare with this species’ friendliness!
I have been following the reports from Albertabird still and I have seen all the reports of winter finches; I knew what a good year it was for these birds. I just didn’t know how good! In my hour or so walk, I saw more Crossbills then I did all last winter. I must have seen more than 100 crossbills!
Most of the crossbills were White-winged however there were a few Red Crossbills in the mix ( see photo above). I also observed many Pine Siskins that were flocking with the crossbills and feeding on the abundant cones.
My neighborhood, for some reason, never seems to be popular with Common Redpolls, however this year, within my first 24 hours of being back in Calgary, I had already seen 2 in my community. Also, we hosted a Pine Grosbeak, which is unusual for us. At one point, I was privileged to see several crossbills, a redpoll and many siskins on the ground just feet in front of me, licking up some sort of salt or rock from the ground.
Then, later on in the day, I discovered why my feeders were so empty. Three Sharp-shinned Hawks were all together in a tree. When 3 raptors start calling your neighborhood home, there are definitely going to be some songbird declines.
All in all, it’s good to be back!
Posted by Matthew Sim
Thank you all for your comments on my yard hawk!
The juvenile Cooper’s/Sharp-shinned conundrum is one of the greatest challenges in bird watching. The species are so similar that often a positive ID cannot be made when you see the bird for just a few minutes. In the winter months, you can add juvenile Northern Goshawk to the possibilities as well. With the additional help of photographs that can be pored over, feather by feather, it then becomes a matter of working your way through the bird guides.
I write for three different bird blogs, and when I was lucky enough to capture this beautiful hawk in pictures, I posted to all three, leaving the identification up to the readers. Guesses included Merlin, Swainson’s, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned and Northern Goshawk.
Consensus is…a Sharp-shinned hawk. Here are the reasons given.
- Young sharpies have yellow eyes, while young Coopers have light yellow to almost pearly white eyes. Your bird has distinctly yellow eyes.
- based on size, as compared to the shepherds hook and feeder, the bird seems Sharpie-sized
- coarse brown streaks on the breast and belly
- thinner legs than on a Cooper’s and narrow white tip on the tail feathers
- smaller head and neck than a Cooper’s
- pale eyebrow, narrow white tip on tail
- Coopers have thicker white band on tail tip
- Immature Cooper’s have whiter, more finely streaked breast
- Sharpie’s have brown upper parts with white spots along scapulars
- Cooper’s tend to have warmer brown napes, where yours has a darker nape
- Sharp-shinned Hawk, based on the straight tail bars
- wing-tips in relation to the length of the tail – Sharp-shinned Hawks wing-tips end just posterior to the hips.
- undertail coverts on Goshawk have dark streaks
Now that I’ve gone through all this, I have absolutely no confidence that next time I see one of these birds, I’ll be able to identify it! They are just too tricky, but do provide a wonderful challenge for birdwatchers to tackle. However, I did find a fantastic website to help with the Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp-shinned identification puzzle, so next time I’ll know where to look.
Posted by Pat Bumstead