Photo by Thompson

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Fun Fact

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in North America.


"Sharp-shinned" refers to the raised ridge on the inside of the tarsus (leg). Striatus is Latin for "striped," which refers to the underparts of juvenile birds, which were described before the adults by early ornithologists.

Conservation status

IUCN Least Concern


A small hawk with a long tail that is barred and square at the end. Looks very similar to a Cooper's Hawk, but is smaller overall. Its wings are short and rounded,. Adults have red eyes, blueish-gray back and wings with red barring on the under-parts, while females have less barring and are more brown. Juveniles are brown on back with brown streaks on belly, a thin white eye-stripe and yellow to orange or red eyes. Long slender legs and toes. They are typically shy and secretive and usually perch well inside cover.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, photo by Ned Harris

Sharp-shinned Hawk, photo by Ned Harris


23.9- 34cm (9.4-13.4 in)


43-56 cm (16.9-22 in)


87-218 g (3.1-7.7 oz)


A Nearctic and Neotropical bird. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is found from Alaska to Central America. It can be migratory or residential depending on the area it lives in or it will simply move to a lower elevation for the winter. (Range map below)


These "forest hawks" nest in forests in cooler northern regions and mountain uplands. Usually not found in open areas. During winter they are often seen in areas with some trees and shrubs, including towns.


Diet consists almost entirely of birds up to the size of small pigeons. They will only occasionally capture small mammals, lizards, frogs and insects. Sharp-shinned Hawks typically hunt from a concealed perch and regularly use bird feeders and roosts as hunting grounds. Searching flights may course through woodlands. Rely on a fast bursting flight to chase down prey. Prey are often taken to a specific area to be plucked before eating.


Usually solitary or in pairs. High-circling is frequently seen during breeding season and mornings. Both males and females may do slow-flight territorial displays where the birds fly in such a way as to expose its white under tail. Hunts by capturing prey from a low stealthy flight or short chase.


Season is from May-August in the north, and March/April-July farther south. Males help in building the nest, which is built against the trunk of a mature tree and in the shade. A typical clutch size is 4-5 eggs with an incubation period of 30-35 days. Fledging occurs at 21-27 days. Once the young hawks have left the nest, adults will pass food in mid-air to them.

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