Sharp-shinned Hawk Kind-of-Day

September 28, 2013 Leave your thoughts

The most amazing cloud formations and colors filled the skies today, as winds blew gently off of the lake. The skies were relatively quiet regarding the larger raptors, but the small Sharp-shinned Hawks kept the day’s total count running high today. Of the 257 raptors observed today, 243 of them were Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Sharp-shinned Hawks will fly through the area both independently as well as in kettles (groups of raptors). Quite often, the chances of seeing kettling Sharp-shinned Hawks depends on how close to the peak migration we are for the species. When hawkwatching in peak migration on days with many Sharp-shinned Hawks moving through, it is not uncommon to see small kettles of these gorgeous, petite accipiters flying past. We had a few small kettles of ‘shins today.

With the fall days of late-September and early October taking place, it is that time of the fall migration where we see a turnover of ages within the Sharp-shinned Hawks observed. In early September, the bulk of the Sharp-shinned Hawks migrating past Hawk Ridge are juveniles. As we get closer to the month of October, many (but not all) of the juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawks will have passed through, and more adult ‘shins will begin to migrate past the ridge. By mid/late October, most of the Sharp-shinned Hawks observed are adults. This migrational trend of juveniles-first & adults-later, can be seen throughout the raptor species found at Hawk Ridge. Many Red-tailed Hawks that we’re seeing now are juveniles (although a few adults have come through). Come late October, most of the Red-tailed Hawks flying through will be sporting the gorgeous tomato-red tail feathers!

Here is a Sharp-shinned Hawk migrating past Hawk Ridge from a few years ago. This individual was on its second fall migration when the photo was taken. A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk would be showing a yellow set of eyes, with brown wings and brown vertical streaks throughout the underbelly. An older adult would show a dark red eye with the adult plumage of reddish horizontal barring and slate-gray wings, backside and tail. The bird in this photo shows the adult plumage, but hosts an orange eye, which is commonly seen during that 1st/2nd year transition of the bird’s life.

Here is a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk, photographed in Duluth just a few weeks ago. Note the brown plumage, vertical streaks, and pale-yellow eye.
Tomorrow may be a rainy day… We’ll have to see. Many fun times are in store at the ridge. 
Good hawkwatching!
Erik Bruhnke
Hawk Ridge Count Interpreter

Posted by Erik Bruhnke

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