The Sharpest of Hawks

What’s small, fast, and hovers around bird feeders? Surprisingly, it’s not always a blue jay or a finch! Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest accipiters, a genus of hawks composed of birds of prey that are closely genetically related to one another. Accipiters have short, broad wings and a long narrow tail for fast maneuverability in wooded areas. Other hawks in this genus include Cooper’s hawks and northern goshawks. These are the birds you see darting out of the woods and grabbing an unsuspecting songbird at your feeder!

On October 28, a sharp-shinned hawk arrived at the VINS Wildlife Department. He had flown into a woman’s open door and got disoriented in her living room. She brought him to VINS, where we discovered that he had no physical problems, and was just slightly thin and disoriented. Due to his size (101 grams), we believe he is a male. It is amazing that these birds can capture robins, blue jays, and sparrows when they aren’t much bigger than these birds themselves!

We also discovered that the sharp-shinned hawk in our care is a juvenile. He doesn’t have the slate-gray head and back, the orange barring on his belly, or the blood-orange eyes of an adult sharp-shinned hawk. Instead, he has yellow eyes and his head and body are covered with brown streak marks.

When the sharp-shinned hawk first came into our care, we gave him a dose of lactated ringers solution to re-hydrate him. Then we offered him small chunks of mice, but being a high-strung accipiter, he refused to eat. Instead, we force-fed and hand-fed him. He had started to swallow food once it was offered, but he still refused to eat on his own (like all the other accipiters that have come through VINS). In all other respects he is a healthy bird. He often flew out of his enclosure when we try to take him out for hand-feeding, and he flew beautifully around our ICU! He was released on November 2 to to his home in the wild and darted in and out of trees before flitting away!

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