Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawk in North America (males). They are regular visitors to winter backyard bird feeders, but not to feed on millet or sunflower, but to prey on the attracted songbirds. "Sharpies" as often referred, are strictly bird eaters, preying on birds up to the size of a dove or quail. They are agile enough to chase songbirds through the most tangled thickets and reappear unscathed. Sharp-shinneds nest in secluded, coniferous woodlands, but winter in edge habitat and suburban areas.
Sharp-shinned Hawks winter primarily from the US-Canadian border to Central America. They breed from May through August from Alaska through Canada, south into the Lower 48 but absent in the southern U.S.. They are fairly common across most of the Lower 48 during migration, especially at raptor migration hotspots, but are rarely encountered during summer. Recent migration counts at many sites show a general decline, but count numbers are difficult to assess due to many variables. When courting, they give a repeated, descending "kil, kil, kil, kil, kil," also a series of high-pitched "chirps" when agitated.
Perched, appears small, with short-winged, long-tailed, small-headed profile.
In flight, stocky with short, rounded wings, and slim, long tail.
In a soar, wings bulge at secondaries and taper slightly at hands, wrists are slightly pushed forward.
In a glide, compact with small head that projects slightly past wrists. Body is short and "chesty." Tail is narrow and long but short compared to Cooper's and Goshawk. Tail typically square-tipped when closed to slightly rounded.
Buoyant and highly maneuverable, able to make abrupt turns on a dime, but unsteady in moderate to high winds.
Soar on migration, rising quickly on winds or thermals, but in tight circles.
Direct flight is with extremely quick, snappy wing beats interspersed with short glides.
Two age classes, adult and juvenile.
Adult barred rufous on white below with white undertail coverts. Upperparts are gray-blue with blackish head. . The tail is indistinctly banded with narrow white tip. Males are more vibrant underneath, paler blue above. Adult eye color changes from orange to dark red as they get older.
Juvenile buffy below with reddish-brown streaking. Brown above with rusty fringes on the upperwing coverts. The tail is indistinctly banded with narrow white tip, eyes are yellow.
Common at most migration sites throughout N.A. Peak fall migration period is mid-September to mid-October; spring peak is mid-April to mid-May.
Juveniles move somewhat earlier in fall and later in spring.
Considerable numbers can be seen in fall at Cape May Point, NJ, Hawk Mountain, PA, Hawk Ridge, MN, Kiptopeke, VA, the Wasatch Mts., UT, the Goshute Mts., NV, the Manzano Mts., NM, the Marin Headlands, CA, and Corpus Christi and Smith Point, TX.
In spring, significant concentrations occur along the southern shores of the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Coast, and the Rocky Mountain foothills.
(Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds. For dynamic distribution maps, visit the eBird website.)