Windsong is a female Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus). She came to us in March of 1999 from Quinalt, Washington. She was witnessed to have flown into a fence and was in a coma for 3 days. When she was brought in, it was obvious that she had sustained head trauma resulting in the loss of her right eye. Windsong’s left eye was also injured and she is nearly completely blind. It is thought that she may be able to see shadows, but she cannot see well enough to be released.
Sharp-shinned Hawks belong to the genus Accipiter of hawks, which are forest-dwelling hawks and known as the “true hawks”. They have short wings and long tails which help them maneuver in and out of trees quickly when chasing their prey. Sharp-shinned hawks get their name because they have very long legs which have no feathering on them. Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawks are dark brown on their wings and back and their chests are a light brown speckled with white. Adults are slate gray with rust colored barring of the chest. All North American Accipiters have orange-red eyes as adults and brownish-yellow eyes as juveniles. This color change is a result of a proper diet. Though an adult, Windsong’s left eye is still the juvenile color.
Sharp-shinned Hawks, also known as Sharpies, are very similar in appearance to Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii). Furthermore, male Cooper’s Hawks are very close in size to female Sharp-shinned Hawks. Though they look nearly identical, there are a few ways to tell the two species apart. The most reliable way is by looking at their tails as they fly. While in flight, the Sharp-shinned Hawk’s tail appears straight and square (or “sharp”) at the end, while the Cooper’s Hawk’s is more rounded (“c-shaped” for Cooper’s).
Sharp-shinned Hawks and male Cooper’s Hawks are bird hunting specialists. The larger Accipiters, including female Cooper’s Hawks and Goshawks, also prey on birds, but have a more diverse prey selection. Sharp-shinned Hawks have learned to wait near bird baths, feeders, and houses for their hunting needs. Once they have their prey, they then take it to a “plucking post” to pluck any feathers and body parts they do not wish to eat.
Sharp-shinned Hawk parents help their young learn to catch birds by playing a game. Once the young are learning to fly, their parents bring back food, but will fly above the nesting area to release the captured food. The young hawks must catch the food in the air to win their meal.