Sharp-shinned Hawk, Princeton, NJ, January 21, 2001

This beautiful little hawk has been visiting our tiny backyard recently. The morning these photographs were taken had been a particularly good one for backyard birds. We'd already had a small flock of Cedar Waxwings eating berries and a delightful Ruby-crowned Kinglet visiting the suet feeder. Then this Sharpie caught a Starling.

When we first noticed the two birds, the Starling was on its back in the snow with the Sharpie standing on its chest, sinking its talons in. The hawk was only a few inches longer than its victim. The Starling was fighting back and had one "hand" around one of the hawk's legs. The struggle was brief, though, and the hawk was soon plucking the Starling. (One can see black feathers on the fresh snow in the first photograph.) A squirrel sat calmly eating fallen bird seed less than three feet away from the hawk during the plucking.

While we hid behind the couch to watch the hawk and take these photos, our cats Purmudgeon and Lightning were also watching intently, noses to the window. That seemed to annoy the hawk, so we lured them into the kitchen for an unprecendented lunch. We continued to watch the hawk to the accompaniment of loud purring coming from the kitchen behind us.

When the cats returned to the window, the hawk flew into a tree and glared at them for a while, before suddenly dashing down to the ground (making a dramatic splash in the new-fallen snow), snatching up its Starling on the fly, and flying off with heavy wing beats, barely clearing the fence. --MWV

Click for enhanced image. Click for enhanced image. Click for enhanced image.

Lee Varian /
April 1, 2001