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Unlike the other groups discussed in this edition, accipiters have long, thin, squared tail feathers and a palm-like wing. It’s as though someone took their wings and trimmed them back a bit. Often referred to as “bird-eating birds,” accipiters most often feed on smaller birds, chasing them through tight quarters in brushy habitat.

Nature really did essentially trim their wings so that they could navigate without their wingtips catching on branches. This palm-like wing also gives any accipiter a great burst of speed as it leaves its perch. That burst comes in handy as it lies in wait, ready to surprise an unsuspecting songbird. As you’ll see if you click on a link later in this document, accipiters are masters of maneuverability.

Two accipiters are found on Catalina: the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk. To the untrained eye, they look remarkably similar, except that the Cooper's is significantly larger. A trained eye will look for a dark cap on the head of the Cooper’s that is lacking in the sharp-shinned hawk. The Cooper's scientific name is Accipiter cooperii and the sharp-shinned species is Accipiter striatus.

Being able to say, “Look, an accipiter, probably a sharp-shin – since it looks small,” is a victory for a birder. Once you’ve made that call, you can consult your bird guides for distinguishing field marks – if you can get a closer look at a perched bird. This is how the pros do it. Get it into the right category first, then try and key it to the correct species. A great source for online bird identification is the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s web site:

My favorite field guides are the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America by David Allen Sibley and the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America. If you’re all about raptors, Brian Wheeler’s Raptors of Western North America is an outstanding resource.

Issue #14 / Diurnal Raptors II


Buteos: Built for Soaring
Accipiters: Sleek Maneuverability
Fact or Fiction?: Falcons Fastest Birds
Did You Know … Raptors’ Sight Superior       

Photo by Tyler Dvorak

This well camouflaged sharp-shinned hawk is perched in typical brushy habitat. The yellow eye and vertical teardrop shapes on the breast indicate that this is a juvenile bird. Adults have red eyes and tight horizontal striping.

Missed recent issues?
Issue #1 / All About Bison

Issue #2 / All About Birds

Issue #3 / All About Plants
Issue #4 / All About Eagles
Issue #5 / All About Ravens & Crows
Issue #6 / All About Natives & Invasives  
Issue #7 / All About Rain
Issue #8 / All About Bison Roundup
Issue #9 / All About Foxes
Issue #10 / All About Weeds
Issue #11 / All About Eagle Hatchlings
Issue #12 / All About Snakes
Issue #13 / All About Diurnal Raptors



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