Hawk at the bird feeder

Although hawks may not find birds feeding interesting, they are often seen perched near, or on top of a bird feeder. Their presence at a bird feeder literally turns the hawk into a bird feeder.

The small accipiter (accipiter is Latin for “bird of prey”), Sharp-shinned hawk, is well known for consuming other birds. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds states Sharp-shinned hawks diets are predominantly smaller birds.

Sharpies stand about 10-14 inches tall (about the size of a Blue Jay), and with a short wing span and long tail the Sharpie is equipped with rapid acceleration when in pursuit of its prey. Sharpies can be identified easily by looking for their small rounded heads, and square shaped tail tip with a thin white band at the end. These hawks are fairly common but shy with a preferred habitat in forests.

Another common hawk seen at bird feeders is the Cooper’s hawk. Cooper’s appear very similar to the Sharp-shinned but are larger, 14-20 inches, have thicker legs, and a rounded tail with white band at the end. Cooper’s also have a slightly square shaped head. In flight, the Cooper’s hawk beats its wings rapidly but they can also be seen soaring high above gliding on level wings. Only about half of the Cooper’s diet is other birds. Both hawks are year around residents in Michigan.

The only thing we can do to shelter songbirds at bird feeders is to offer plenty of cover nearby. Dense shrubbery is best.

Law protects birds of prey, so there is really nothing you can do, legally, to lessen their presence. Their predation on songbirds really has no great effect on their populations. Their behavior has been part of nature long before people began feeding birds as a hobby. Their activity is part of the natural laws: they eliminate the sick and weak birds from the population, which in turn helps keep nature in balance.

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