Close-up on a Sharp-shinned Hawk, by Don McKay

When someone asks me about a hawk that they spotted in their backyard, my first suggestion is always a sharp-shinned hawk.  These lovely birds thrive in suburbia in the northeastern United States. If you want to know how strong a flier a bird is, look at what it eats. Red-tailed hawks eat road kill and rodents and they are not very strong fliers. But Sharpies (our affectionate nickname for Sharp shinned hawks), Sharpies hunt birds… With their short, rounded wings, and long straight tails, they are excellent fliers adapted for weaving in and out of trees and around obstacles. Aerial maneuvers 101.

These adaptations allow them to take advantage of a relatively new feeding niche…bird feeders.

Once I was riding my bicycle around a corner and I almost ran smack into a Sharpie flying at eye level.  I don’t think they’re used to things moving that fast at that height in the forest.  I shouted and ducked and it swung up abruptly and we missed each other, but it remains one of my coolest bird interactions.

Close-up on a Sharp-shinned Hawk

Concentrate on her attributes:

the accipiter’s short

roundish wings, streaked breast, talons fine

and slender as the x-ray of a baby’s hand.

The eyes (yellow in this hatchling

later deepening to orange then

blood red) can spot

a sparrow at four hundred metres and impose

silence like an overwhelming noise

in which you must not listen

Suddenly, if you’re not careful, everything

goes celluloid and slow

and threatens to burn through and you

must focus quickly on the simple metal band around her leg

by which she’s married to our need to know.

– Don McKay


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