Three species of ‘bird’ hawks common here

Here in Northwestern Ontario, we have quite a few hawks, which fall into four different categories. The Accipiters are called “bird” hawks because a good part of their regular diet is made up of smaller birds.
So these are the very few hawks which really give all of the others a bad name among a lot of people. Actually, most of the other hawks do not take birds as a part of their usual diet.
They are called “Accipiters” because the first part of their scientific name is always Accipiter. We have three species of Accipiter here in the northwest, and they all have some characteristics in common.
First, in the air they look to have fairly short wings which are rounded at the ends. They also have quite long tails. And in flight, they all do the same thing–take several quick wingbeats and then glide for a while.
oCooper’s Hawk (A. Cooperii): This is a pretty good-sized hawk, about the size of a crow, up to about 20 inches long. Upper parts, back, wings and so on are fairly dark blue.
The breast is barred with a lot of reddish lines, and it has a dark “cap” on the top of its head. Young birds have brown upper parts but when mature, the adults look almost exactly alike.
Their voice is a sort of stuttering “kik-kik-kik.”
This hawk is usually found in open woodlands, and it breeds all the way from B.C. to Quebec, mainly along Canada’s southern boundary.
oSharp-shinned Hawk (A. striatus): In almost all respects, this one is a smaller version of the Cooper’s Hawk. It only runs to about a foot in length, just a bit bigger than a robin.
But this small hawk is quite aggressive. I’ve watched one attack Blue Jays (as big as itself) over and over again, with nil results.
The Sharp-skinned’s colours are almost exactly the same as Cooper’s. For a small Cooper’s and a large Sharp-shinned, it is almost impossible to tell them apart.
The Sharp-shinned favours woodlands, especially near the edges, where it has some open space for hunting but still not too far away from the trees.
This hawk also has that sharp voice but with higher notes–“keek-keek-keek.”
oNorthern Goshawk (A. gentiles): This hawk is a bit differently coloured but it has the same general shape. Again, the back and wings are slaty blue but the underparts are grey, with darker marks and streaks.
This one has quite a blackish “cap” with a prominent white line over the eye, and a dark line below that.
It is much larger than the other two–up to well over two feet. It also is quite a sturdy bird, quite capable of taking pigeons and others of similar size.
It seems to prefer more heavily-wooded areas but it does its hunting at fairly low levels. An all-northern bird, it breeds in almost all of Canada below the tree line, as well as in Europe and Asia.
So those are our three Accipiters, all of which are quite common right across our Northwest. Watch for the rounded wings, that peculiar type of flight, and the staccato call.
The “bird” hawks are not too hard to identify.

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