The sharp-shinned hawk at my feeder

My camera battery was fully charged this time.  Picking the camera up, holding it ready I edged toward the window. The hawk was facing the window. Just eight feet away.  Great for pictures. But as I neared the window the hawk turned about and flew.

A sharp-shinned hawk is bigger than a robin, smaller than a crow. Its wings are somewhat rounded on the ends, not pointed like a falcon’s and its tail is rather long for the length of its body. A male is black on top of the head, bluish-gray on the back and upper side of wings and tail, rusty barred on the breast and belly. A female is brown on the top of its head and back, streaked with brown underneath.

The sharp-shinned hawk and the slightly larger Cooper’s are very much alike, so much so that they are difficult to tell apart. The principle difference, other than size which is hard to judge, is the shape of the end of the tail, which is also hard to judge.

These two are often called bird hawks. Their relatively short wings, compared to a buteo, a soaring hawk, or to a falcon, and their long tail give them speed and maneuverability. If their prey, most often smaller birds, flies before they strike they can follow it, even in a woods, zigzagging around trunks and branches.

Preying on smaller birds, particularly cardinals and mourning doves, titmice and chickadees and downy woodpeckers and other birds that come to our bird feeders, makes these hawks very unpopular, unless you want to photograph them. Every year I have people ask what they can do about a hawk that’s catching birds at or around their bird feeder.

Well, they can’t shoot it, not legally. Whether it’s a sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s hawk it’s protected just as chickadees and titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, downy woodpeckers and blue jays are.

They can scare it. But that will scare the other birds too. Further. They can’t watch the feeder all day every day and scare a hawk whenever it comes around. Plastic owls and other scare devices scare all the birds too, not just hawks, and they only work temporarily anyhow. It isn’t long before the birds recognize that those immobile owls are harmless.

The alternative, the only practical solution in my opinion, is to look on a hawk as part of the feathered clientele that visits the feeder, to admire their strength and aerial agility, to think of them as an integral part of the wildlife around your home.

If you take the latter approach, I recommend you have your bird feeder or feeders near thick bushes or evergreens, tangles the little birds can fly into to escape a hawk. They won’t all escape all the time. There were mourning dove feathers on the ground under my feeder a few days ago and only bird tracks in the snow.

Strange as it may seem, I hope the sharpy we’ve seen near our front feeder comes back. Or the Cooper’s hawk we’ve seen perched in a tree to the side of our house. I hope the sharpy comes when I’m at my desk, just in front of the window, with my camera beside me, battery charged.

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