Sharp-shinned Hawks are Accipiters, bird-eating raptors that are closely related to Cooper’s Hawks and Northern Goshawks. Like other Accipiters, they have short, rounded wings and a long-tail that serves like a rudder, enabling them to fly though tiny gaps in vegetation. They often capture their prey near bird feeders or by flying low through the forest and pouncing on some small, unsuspecting passerine.
How do I recognize it? This small raptor is only slightly larger than a Blue Jay but females are much larger than males. The adult plumage is grey above and finely-barred red underneath. Young birds are brown above, with brown-streaked underparts. It has a long, square-tipped tail, which differs from the rounded tail of the somewhat larger Cooper’s Hawk; however, separating these two Accipiters is one of the toughest identification challenges in birding in Manitoba.
Is it migratory? This species breeds throughout the Boreal Forest of Canada and in the mountainous regions of the United States. It winters primarily south of the border, but increasing numbers are found in cities and towns in southern Manitoba in winter.
Where does it live? During the summer months Sharp-shinned Hawks are primarily secretive denizens of deep coniferous forests in our province, so they are rarely encountered at that time of year. They are seen much more frequently during migration.
Where I see it? Your best chances of seeing numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks is by visiting one of the hawk watch sites in southern Manitoba (St. Adolphe bridge and Pembina River valley near Windygates) in April. Migrating birds may pass in the hundreds, especially on sunny days with a light wind. In September and early October concentrations are often found along the western shores of Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, especially during periods with westerly winds.
Conservation status: Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers are considered stable.