Flight of the sharp-shinned hawks continuesBy this time in October, we’ve seen plenty of the changes attributed to this month. Most notable is the leaf drop that was speeded up a bit by a series of windy days at mid-month. Looking out into the woods now, we see far deeper through this tree growth than we could since early last spring.
By: Larry Weber, for the Budgeteer
By this time in October, we’ve seen plenty of the changes attributed to this month. Most notable is the leaf drop that was speeded up a bit by a series of windy days at mid-month. Looking out into the woods now, we see far deeper through this tree growth than we could since early last spring. With little green and other colors that may still be present, the scene has become much more drab. However, in many swamps, there is a lingering glow as the tamaracks give an encore to the colors of October. As the sole conifer in the Northland to shed all its needles at once, the color demands our attention for several days in October each year.
Also persisting throughout the month is the south-bound migration. Shifting from the flitting of various warblers or the insect-eating swallows and flycatchers from early in the month, the songbird flight now is of other kinds. Each day along the roadsides, I now see the flocks of little gray birds, the juncos. Here, they gather and feed on weed seeds as they head south. Nearby are robins seeking insect meals on the ground or fruits still on trees. Within the higher branches and louder are the groupings of grackles and blackbirds. All of these birds move on as they gather. Others such as thrushes, kinglets and the diminutive winter wrens prefer a solitary journey. In addition to these songbirds, I’ve been seeing various ducks and geese making their own route as well. These movements have changed much in the past weeks, but there’s been a kind of raptor that has consistently been flying by for each of the days in the past months, the sharp-shinned hawk.
Small, as hawks go, the sharp-shins are about only a foot long. Adults are dark above with undersides of numerous red bands and a red eye. Young, also making the south flight now, are brown above with a chest and belly lined with brown stripes and a yellow eye. Both adults and young have the long dark-banded tail with a squared-off tip. They, like the Cooper’s hawk and northern goshawk, belong to a group of hawks called accipiters. With short rounded wings, they have great agility, which serves well for hunting in the woods. Diet is mostly small birds.
With a continuous source of songbirds in fall, sharp-shins have food available each day of this season. And with the abundance of forests on their flight route, they are at home all the way. The flight time for these hawks is long and drawn out. It is a rare day at Hawk Ridge when at least some of their kinds are not seen. And while some of the larger broad-winged hawks may come by in huge flocks numbering in the thousands in September and then fade to few or none by this time, the movement of the sharp-shins continues each day.
During the last 30 days at the Northland’s raptor observation site Hawk Ridge, sharp-shinned hawks have not only been seen and counted each day, but they have been the most numerous for most of these days. Their migration began in August and will continue through November. A few have even been observed here in winter. Their flap-gliding flight pattern helps to identify them as we see their movement over Hawk Ridge. They are also the ones most likely to be caught by the local bird banders. With the dimorphic feather patterns between young and adult, it is easy to discern the two, and it appears that the immature and inexperienced are more likely to be caught and banded here. Every time that I visit Hawk Ridge to witness this south-bound migration, I will see sharp-shinned hawks, and frequently it is up close. Their flight will last for many more of these autumn days. We don’t need to go to Hawk Ridge to watch these graceful raptors, but viewing here continues to be superb.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.