A Ground-hunting Sharp-shinned Hawk

By Derek Stoner, Family Program Coordinator

A amle Sharp-shinned Hawk perches near the ground, searchign the bushed for juncos and other songbird prey.  Photo by Derek Stoner.
A male Sharp-shinned Hawk perches near the ground, searching the bushes for Juncos and other songbird prey. Photo by Derek Stoner.
Walking along a hedgerow at Bucktoe Creek Preserve last week, I kept flushing small groups of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows.   Sudden high-pitched chirping of the songbirds alerted me to the presence of a predator.
An adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk flew onto the scene, and perched in a tree a short distance ahead.  Each time I walked forward and flushed the songbirds, the hawk would fly a little further as he kept tabs on the terrified sparrows.
Soon we(the hawk and I) reached a corner in the hedgerow, and the sparrows felt trapped.  A few juncos made a mad flight for freedom.  One of the juncos smacked right into a tree as it tried to escape the hawk! 
The hawk hopped down to the ground, where the previous day’s snowfall made him stand out.  He peered into the bushes and made a few jabs as he tried to dislodge the birds cowering inside the vegetation. 
I stood transfixed, rolling video on my camera as the hawk perched ten feet away.  Incredibly focused on the prospect of prey, the hawk did not notice my presence.   The close encounter allowed for great photo and video opportunities! 

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are known for their ability to hunt from the ground, and will actually run around in pursuit of small prey.  The hawk’s long, narrow legs tipped with sharp talons help them to jab into vegetation and fish out their victims. 

As these small accipiters have adapted to living in the suburban landscape, they also seem to be developing new hunting techniques– including following helpful hikers flushing birds for them!

2 thoughts on “A Ground-hunting Sharp-shinned Hawk”

  1. Today a Coopers went down to my backyard pond (in downtown Wilmington). Couldn’t see what it was doing there, but I was trying to imagine it taking a drink – nope couldn’t imagine that. So presumably it was hunting. After about 45 seconds it flew off from the ground onto a low branch and then out of sight.

  2. Enjoyed this! Looking from the upstairs window into the back garden in this morning’s grey light, and without my glasses on, I saw at first thought a strange looking crow on the ground peering into a patch of green-eyed coneflowers. After a momnet I realized it was a Cooper’s Hawk hunting. Too bad the light was too poor to get photos.


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