Sharp-shinned Hawk Flying

About 2:30 this afternoon, as I was driving out on my way to do some errands, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew over the highway ahead of me, a little above tree level. Its compact shape and fluttery way of flying caught my eye. It flapped several quick times, then a short glide, then several more quick flaps and another glide. At one point, it banked, showing its pale under side and a perfect view of its shape – the small head and broad, short wings, and slender squarish tail. Even though it was a very brief sighting, it left a vivid impression, and lightened up a busy afternoon, putting things in a better, more relaxed perspective.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk are so similar in appearance that it’s easy to mistake one for the other – and I’m sure I’ve been wrong more than once. The reasons I’m pretty sure this was a Sharp-shinned Hawk were its compact shape and the way it flew – quick flaps followed by glides. It was flying between two areas of wooded land, on either side of the highway.

Both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are woodland raptors designed for flight through trees and dense cover, in pursuit of their prey – smaller birds and some mammals. The Sharp-shinned especially is known for preying on songbirds. I see Cooper’s Hawks fairly often, but Sharp-shinned only now and then, but I wouldn’t say that’s a good measure of which is more common here. The Sharp-shinned is not only smaller but also more secretive, and its habits in general make it less likely to be observed, except during migration.

So for me, it’s less common to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and it always feels like a particular stroke of luck, and an uncommon glimpse of a bird that usually stays well hidden in the trees. I also couldn’t help thinking, as I drove on, that these woods on either side of the highway, where the Sharp-shinned Hawk had flown, are steadily being replaced by development, and in another few years they probably will be gone.

One Response to “Sharp-shinned Hawk Flying”

  1. Nancy Ortiz says:

    I think you’re right. Cooper’s hawks use even strokes of their wings when flying. Even over short distances, they fly very fast. Cooper’s give the impression of being pretty large, both on the ground and flying. Not big like a red tailed but not exactly compact either. I’ve seen one on the ground from a distance of about 15 feet. Fairly long tail for such a slender bird. I’m mad at him,though, because he was after my feeder birds. Knocked himself briefly unconscious when he stooped, missed, and hit my brick patio. Yours sounds just different enough to be a sharp-shinned. Both lucky, beautiful and unforgettable birds. TTFN

Leave a Reply