Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sharp-Shinned Hawk Age Coloration

I posted this on one of the larger nature photography critique sites, I'm posting it here partially to fill up some space, but also to fill in some of the natural history information available on this blog. Anyway, here it is, republished here.

Spent some time at Hawk Ridge this morning, and they had banded a nice succession of female sharpies, from 1st year to 3rd. Sharp-Shinned hawks are accipiters, woodland hawks that are very agile and feed on songbirds (although they've been reported to attack jays and robins - birds comparable in size to the sharpie). Males are about a 3rd smaller than the females, but coloring is pretty much the same.

First Year

First year plumage is readily apparent by the feathers on the breast with a more vertical pattern of color blotches that are more of a rusty-brown color. Feathers on the crown are mostly brown with some streaks of white. The shoulders are brown, with some gray, eyes and nares are yellow. Nearly 80% of Sharpies don't make it past the first year (starvation, predation, disease, window strikes, etc take a big toll).

Second Year

Second year birds show more of the classic accipiter color patterns like the breast coloration is more horizontally oriented and more of a ruddy brown, while the crown is slate gray with a little brown. Shoulders are a slate grey, with some hints of brown still visible. Note the iris is an orange color, while the nares are still yellow. Sharpies become sexually mature after 2 years, so this female may have hatched a brood this year.

Third+ Year

In the third year, the feather pattern takes the final coloration, and it's near impossible to specify the age after year 3. Note that the shoulders are gray and the crown a darker gray, the banding on the breast is a little more red and distinct. The eye, however, is what should grab you. The red color is well-developed now. Most Sharp-shinned Hawks live for about 10 years in the wild.

Hawk Ridge offers a nice little interpretive program to visitors during the fall migration, and for a donation, one can 'adopt' the bird: they get to release the banded bird and receive updates if that bird is ever spotted at other stations. Fall raptor migration is in full swing now, and for more information plus daily species counts, go to:

There it is, unedited as such, but the photos and info are the same. Sharpies are pretty much gone from my area, but I'm already looking forward to seeing them again.


  1. Great post! It's a treat to be informed by someone as knowledgable as yourself. And your pictures are very very nice too... Thanks.

  2. Very informative. There are Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks up here on the Olympic Peninsula. It's hard to tell them apart, but this post may give me some clues. Excellent.

  3. Nice explanation. I came across your blog via I and the Bird.