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Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Sharpie is hungry

The weather has turned quite chilly again with temperatures in the 40s today and a cold, brisk wind that makes it feel a lot colder. The bird feeders are crowded, mostly with American Goldfinches. I counted two dozen at the feeders in the backyard this morning.

The House Finches that have been absent for a while have returned as well and my little Rufous Hummingbird visitor is still with me and making frequent visits to the sugar water feeder. All of the usual customers are well-represented at the feeders today, but they are all nervous and they rush for the shrubbery with every sudden sound or movement. That's because there is another bird hanging around the feeders. It is a Sharp-shinned Hawk and it is hungry.

I often see a Cooper's Hawk in my yard throughout the year, but I only ever see a Sharpie in the winter. I first noticed this one last weekend when it swooped in on a flock of feeding birds and tried to nab one. I've seen him a few times since then and he's always moving very fast and chasing a songbird. I haven't seen him actually catch one, although I have found feathers in my backyard indicating that some predator has been successful.

It's hard to tell a Sharpie from a Cooper's in the wild and on the wing, but this bird is considerably smaller than the Cooper's that I usually see. His tail is squared off rather than rounded and, for me, that is one of the most reliable field marks. Because of his size, I think he probably is a male since male hawks are smaller than females. If  it were a female, she would be more of a size with the Cooper's and probably harder to distinguish.

It's always distressing to see one of these small bird-hawks actually catch one of my yard birds, but I have to remind myself that Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks are yard-birds, too. They live in my yard and they have to eat, and they play an important role in keeping the bird population strong and healthy. I mustn't begrudge them a meal now and then. And besides all that, that are beautiful, magnificent creatures and they always create excitement in the yard. The Backyard Birder's life is never dull when they are around.



  1. I've got a hawk hanging out in my backyard. I think he is a red-tailed, but I'm not sure. I do know he is huge. I think he is hunting birds at my feeder and looking for rodents down by the train tracks close by where I live. I love watching the birds at the feeder, but I guess the hawks do as well.

  2. If it's a Red-tailed, he's probably more interested in the rodents than the birds, Rambling Wren. Red-taileds normally prey on rodents and other small mammals and reptiles. They will occasionally take a bird if it is absolutely convenient - mostly bigger birds like water birds. They are not really equipped to chase small songbirds.