Adept hunters, sharp-shinned hawks prey on smaller birds

Posted Feb. 08, 2011, at 9:22 p.m.

I went to Boston with my brother Bob Kellogg — aka Robert Orcutt Kellogg III — and on the way home, saw a sharp-shinned hawk and a red-tailed hawk. I was waiting for Bob to lock his apartment.

Just a minute before, a flock of house sparrows had flown into a large, dense bush. Then a sharp-shinned hawk arrived and waited in a spruce tree nearby, closer, 8 feet away. The hawk was watching and could catch a sparrow and eat it.

Bob and I watched the hawk for a few minutes, admiring her gray back and rufous stripes across her breast.

I use “she” because it was a large sharp-shinned hawk, and with hawks the females are larger than the males.

Then Bob drove out of the driveway and we both went north toward Maine. If the hawk had flown away, we would have seen her short, wide wings and her long tail.

The hawk’s wings and tails enable them to chase smaller birds, their usual prey, in dense bushes and trees.

If the hawk could catch the sparrow, the hawk would have carefully plucked her prey before eating it.

The sharp-shinned hawk is in the genus accipiter. There are three species of accipiters in Maine: sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk and northern goshawk.

The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest, 10-14 inches long. Its name comes from its thin tarsus, or shank, a part of the leg next to its toes.

All the bones in your feet and mine are fused together. Birds’ feet have one long bone, the shank or tarsus. At the top of the tarsus is the heel and ankle.

The other hawks are in the genus buteo, like the red-tailed hawk, or the genus falcon, like the peregrine falcon.

When I was a neophyte in birding, it was hard to decide about hawks, but when learning about accipiters, buteos and falcons, it was easier.

On Feb. 22-25 we will offer these programs for children:

  • Tuesday, “Snow Science:” snow and ice in the fields, forests and stream. We’ll be making our own crystals and discovering the insulating power of snow.
  • Wednesday, “Migrate, Hibernate, Activate,” the tracks of animals that stay active, create a shelter to hibernate in or explore the migration of favorite animals.
  • Thursday, “Maine Birds in Winter.” Which birds are at our feeders, or in the forest? Also, we will dissect owl pellets and make bird feeders.
  • Friday, “Life Under the Ice.” Spend the day ice fishing, but not just for fish! We’ll set traps and discover what other animals stay active under the ice all winter long.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center and its programs, call 989-2591.

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