The little song birds had disappeared for a couple weeks. We found out why this week.
The “chicken hawk” of colonial America, this medium-sized accipiter is a common sight at home bird feeders across the country, swooping in to nab an unwary dove or jay. Females are larger and bulkier than males, juveniles differ from adults. Monotypic. Length 14–20″ (36–51 cm); wingspan 29–37″ (74–94cm).
Identification The long tail is rounded at the tip, also the relatively short wings and flat-topped head are good field marks. Eye is close to the beak. Crown merges with forehead and bill in a smooth line. Adult: blue-gray upperparts, the crown is darker and contrasts with the lighter nape and buffy cheeks, giving the look of wearing a “beret.” Eye color is orange to red. Undersides with rufous barring, undertail is white. Juvenile: brown above, with rufous edges and white spots on upperwing coverts. Tail long, with straight bands and wide, white tip that wears down by spring. Head usually buffy, eyes pale yellow. Undersides are white with thin brown streaks, white undertail. Flight: wings typically held straight out from body, head, and neck projecting forward. This along with tail length make a “flying cross” appearance. Shallow, quick wingbeats alternate with short glides.
Geographic Variation Western populations hunting more open country are smaller, with longer wings, shorter legs than eastern birds. Plumages are alike.
Similar Species Northern goshawk is usually larger, heavier appearing, and has relatively shorter tail and longer wings. Sharp-shinned hawk is smaller and has a square tail.
Voice A low keh-keh-keh uttered around nest, occasionally mimicked by jays.
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