The Sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest North American member of the Accipiter genus. This compact hawk is just about smaller than a crow, though bigger than a robin.
There are around ten subspecies that vary in size and plumage, and males, females, and juveniles also differ in plumage. This is a guide to juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks are darker brown than adults, lacking the blue-grey wings and upper parts of mature birds. They have vertical barring across the stomach and chest, and coarsely darker brown barred wings.
In some subspecies, the juvenile’s barred plumage is grayer with white underparts. They might have brown and reddish spots too.
Overall, juvenile plumage is grayer, browner, and more heavily barred compared to the more refined and contrasting white, brown and blue-gray adult plumage.
Of course, that’s not all you need to know about juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks - so read on for more!
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk
Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk
Juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks are primarily brown with coarse vertical streaks (bars). Some subspecies are grayer, whereas others are browner.
For example, members of A. (s.) ventralis (the Plain-breasted hawk, which is sometimes considered to be a different species to the Sharp-shinned hawk) tend to have rufous streaked underparts with traces of black on their undersides. In addition, barring closer to the tips of wings are darker and more defined, and streaks on the tail are patchy and heavier.
In general, the juveniles of darker subspecies will likely have darker plumage themselves, whereas lighter subspecies will probably have lighter plumage immature birds.
In all cases, juveniles are browner, grayer, and more heavily barred than either adult male or female Blue-shinned hawks. They lack the more solid and contrasting blue-gray wings and paler stomachs of adults.
Another key difference is that juveniles have a yellow iris in contrast to a darker orange iris, as is the case for adults.
First-winer Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight
Juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks are predominantly brown with some white-brown underparts. Wings are grayer with bolder bands, whereas the underside is browner with finer bands.
The main colors are brown and gray, lacking the blue-gray coloration of the adults. Different subspecies have subtle differences, but juveniles are primarily brown with light and dark brown bars.
Sharp-shinned hawks are small, with females weighing 150 to 220g and males a lesser 82 to 120g.
There’s little data to suggest how large juveniles are, but the young birds grow very quickly and rapidly attain their adult size and weight. Therefore, it’d be tough to tell juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks from adults based on size and weight alone.
There can be quite a bit of variation among the Sharp-shinned Hawk juvenile plumage across the 10 subspecies
Sharp-shinned hawks eat meat like the adults. However, their hunting abilities are largely innate, and they can catch an array of prey after a few weeks after hatching. Parents feed the juvenile hawks in the first several weeks to help them grow as they learn to hunt effectively.
In one study, young Sharp-shinned hawks attempted to hunt prey around two weeks after fledgling, but the only observed successful hunting attempts took 51 to 68 days to achieve (the prey was a lizard in Puerto Rico).
Plumage is the most reliable way to tell juveniles from adults, but you can also see if the bird is partnered with another, which would tell you it’s reached sexual maturity and is, therefore, not a juvenile.
Juveniles become adept at hunting within just a month or two, but they’ve been observed targeting prey that is too large for them and failing like typical gung-ho teenagers!
So if you see a brownish-barred hawk you believe to be a Sharp-shinned hawk targeting unrealistically large prey, then it’s almost certainly a juvenile - albeit that would be a rare thing to see!
Immature Sharp-shinned Hawk on the lookout for prey in a backyard
Juvenile plumage is relatively well-developed after four weeks. Juvenile plumage is predominantly brown or gray-brown with coarse barring.
Juvenile plumage lasts until May or so the following calendar year, at which point the juvenile begins molting into its basic adult plumage. One study in Oregon found the molt starts in June and lasts around four months.
You can define a juvenile Sharp-shinned hawk as a bird that has not yet molted into its adult plumage or reached sexual maturity.
This lasts until the bird is a few months old. Sharp-shinned hawks remain juveniles for at least a year until they lose their juvenile plumage around one year after hatching.
But, they won’t attain sexual maturity for another year after that. So, you could argue that Sharp-shinned hawks are juveniles until they're around 2-years-old.
Young Sharp-shinned Hawk, perched on the ground
Like many raptors, young Sharp-shinned hawks remain under the close attention of their parents after they leave the nest and are able to fly. This lasts for a month or so, while the birds learn to fly competently and hunt for themselves.
The parents continue to feed the young birds throughout this time, and they don’t stray too far from the nest.
Sharp-shinned hawks are regularly confused with Cooper’s hawks.
In their standard adult plumage, both the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawk have blue-gray wings and upperparts with brown or brown-white stomachs. However, Cooper’s hawks are considerably larger, with a more pronounced head and whiter stomachs.
As juveniles, both young Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks are predominantly brown with light and dark barring, but the Cooper’s hawk has more heavily contrasting bars while the Sharp-shinned is subtler.
The size of the hawk and the shape of the head also help, as Cooper’s hawks have a larger head and are typically bigger than crow size, whereas Sharp-shinned hawks generally are smaller than crow size.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree
There’s no specific name for juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks. These birds are sometimes known as “Sharpies” for short.
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