Contributed by Winsor Marrett Tyler
[Published in 1938: Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 170: 106-121]
The eastern sparrow hawk *** represents, in North America, a group of small falcons that in the Temperate and Tropical Zones is of nearly world-wide distribution. So closely do the members of this group resemble one another that over a very large part of the globe, wherever a traveler goes, he is sure to meet a bird that in plumage and behavior reminds him of one of the little hawks of his own country.
Our bird received its common name through the misconception of our English forefathers, who, primarily pioneers, failed to note its close relationship to their kestrel and misnamed it the sparrow hawk after the British bird of that name.
That our sparrow hawk has always been a favorite with American ornithologists is shown by the many appreciative, friendly comments that we meet as we pass through the literature. Thus Coues (1874) speaks of it as "the prettiest and jauntiest of our Hawks, and yet no prig," and Brewster (1925) calls it "most light-hearted and frolicsome."
Spring.--As the breeding season draws near, the sparrow hawk relaxes the habit of solitude to which it adheres, for the most part, during autumn and winter. It may be true, although it is not positively known, that the birds mate for life, as is believed to be the custom of some raptors, but in any case, at the approach of spring--during April and May in the North Atlantic states--the birds are commonly seen in pairs, often on windy treetops, perched near together, either side by side or on adjacent branches. Here, not far from their prospective nest site, they remain quiet for long periods, with short flights together now and then, away and back again. The difference in size proclaims them, even at a long distance, to be male and female, and they display their attention to each other, which strongly suggests affection, the connubial character of their association.
Today I saw them sitting not far apart on the tops of neighboring dead balsams. Every now and then one, always the male, I thought, would mount high in the air to fly very rapidly, in a wide circle over and around where the other was perched, bending the tips of his wings downward and quivering them incessantly, at the same time uttering a shrill, clamorous 'kee-kee' cry, oft repeated. Sometimes both would start off together, to chase one another far and near, describing all manner of beautiful curves and occasionally sweeping down almost to the surface of the water. On realighting they invariably chose the very topmost twigs, often very slender ones, and settled on these with no less abruptness than precision, yet with admirable grace, scarce checking their speed until the perch was well-nigh reached and just then deftly folding their shapely wings.
Sherman C. Bishop (1925) had the opportunity for a period of two weeks to watch the mating activities of a pair of birds that had "established their hunting headquarters on the tops of some marble columns which are a few feet below and a hundred feet away from my office windows." He notes under April 14: "Preliminary to mating, the birds faced one another and slowly bobbed their heads and tails, the female keeping up a continuous low call," and under April 17: "Raining. Female called most of the afternoon. After mating, the male sometimes mounts high in the air and performs some remarkable evolutions--spirals, short dashes and a rapid drop ending on the back of the female." Summarizing his report, he says: "Judging from these observations, the female takes the initiative in mating. Her calls are continuous for many minutes at a time and are often accompanied by fluttered wings and definite approach towards the male. The male was observed to call only when actually dropping down to the female."
According to my observation, coitus, which often takes place on the branch of a tree, is a noisy, boisterous proceeding, accompanied by a good deal of wing flapping on the part of the male bird.
Nesting.--Unlike most hawks, which either make true nests in trees or lay their eggs on open ledges of bare cliffs, the sparrow hawk, in the great majority of instances, hides its eggs away in deep hollows--either in a natural cavity in a tree or in a hole excavated by a flicker or some woodpecker of similar size. W. E. D. Scott (1886) speaks of the bird in an arid part of Arizona as breeding "commonly in deserted Woodpecker holes in the giant cacti wherever they flourish," and, in a letter to Mr. Bent, A. Dawes DuBois reports a remarkably high nest "in a hole in a dead branch at the top of a tree, at a measured height of eighty-one feet above the ground." R. C. Harlow (1912) mentions a nest site in "an enormous natural cavity, two feet in diameter," and Bendire (1892) reports an unusual case of its resorting "to holes in sandstone cliffs and clay banks."
Dr. Louis B. Bishop writes to Mr. Bent of a nest in a hole in an elm tree, 20 feet up, in which a female sparrow hawk was "sitting on one golden-eye's egg, with the others and her own eggs around her. The hole was reported to have been used by the golden-eye in previous years."
On rare occasions the sparrow hawk uses an open nest of another bird--a habit it shares with the pigeon hawk. Thus Dice (1918) says: "A nest was found. . .[in southeastern Washington] in an old magpie nest about twelve feet high in an osage hedge," and Rockwell (1909), speaking of sparrow hawks breeding in magpies' nests, says: "The Sparrow Hawk *** seems to prefer nests which are roofed over, and instances where the eggs are deposited in open nests are quite rare. It is of some interest to note that Sparrow Hawks nesting in this manner are much more timid than those nesting in cavities, and whereas it is a common occurrence to find a brooding female so fearless that it is necessary to remove her from her eggs in a cavity, it is seldom that one can approach within thirty yards of a bird brooding in a magpie's nest without flushing it. Apparently the bird does not feel perfectly secure in a location which is not altogether natural to the inherited instinct of the species."
Since the advent of civilized man to the country, the sparrow hawk frequently makes use of buildings and bird boxes for breeding purposes. They add little if any nesting material but lay their eggs either on the bare floor or on whatever the previous occupant has left behind. Illustrating this habit Mr. Bent notes a nest "in an old pigeon box, with an outside entrance in the upper story of a barn, a bulky nest of grass at one end of the box--probably an old nest of pigeons," and S. F. Rathbun submits the following vivid picture, showing unusual surroundings of a sparrow hawk's nest: "In May, 1932, we were in the elevated plateau section of a county in central Washington. Formerly this part of the county was more or less covered with sagebrush, but now raises much grain. At infrequent times one will come across a building that has been abandoned for some reason, and it is always worth while to look over such a building, for some species of bird may be nesting in it, as that section of the country has a very sparse tree growth.
"We went into such a structure and, on entering a ground-floor room, caught the flash of a bird as it flew from the room through a window lacking its upper sash. There was only one place from which the bird could have flown, a round entrance hole for a stovepipe on the face of the lower end of a brick chimney entering the room on one side from above, the base of the chimney resting on a shelf about 8 feet from the floor. Within the chimney, below the stovepipe hole, was a space 3 or 4 inches deep, which a sparrow hawk was using as a place for nesting. The bottom of this space was rather thinly strewed with droppings from wood rats, there being more than a handful, and mixed with the droppings, were some few bits of rotten bark and wood. On this latter were five eggs that the hawk was incubating.
"This dwelling was overrun with wood rats (Neotoma cinerea occidentalis), which had torn into small pieces much of the paper that had been on the walls, evidently using some of it for their nests. Scraps of paper were on all sides, and likewise, scattered everywhere, was excrement from the wood rats. Never before have I seen such a mess. As we walked about, now and then a rat scampered from under foot, and we heard others at work within the walls. There was no sign that the pair of hawks had interfered with the animals, or vice versa, as far as the nest was concerned. Possibly some sort of truce may have existed between the birds and the rats. No one knows."
Miss Althea R. Sherman (1913), who had an exceptionally favorable opportunity to watch from a blind a pair of sparrow hawks rearing their young, has published her observations in detail in an article to which the reader is referred, as only the salient facts can be quoted here and in the section under "Young." She says: "The first egg was deposited on April 28 before eleven o'clock in the morning, and an egg was laid on each alternate day until the sixth, and last, on May 8. . . . Incubation was performed mainly by the female, only once was the male found in the nest. . . . Sometimes it was noted that the eggs were left uncovered nearly or quite an hour, while both birds sat in their tree preening themselves, an exercise in which they spent a vast amount of time."
In common with most birds of prey, a pair of sparrow hawks usually nests far removed from another pair. Charles R. Stockard (1905), reporting an exception to this rule says: "I found them in Adams County [Mississippi] nesting in a manner almost social or colonial. In a newly cleared field there were many old stumps of deadened trees, some of which were very tall, and many pairs of this little hawk were nesting in these stumps. Some were in natural cavities and others in the deserted burrows of Pileated and other woodpeckers. . . . This clearing was about one mile long and half a mile wide."
Eggs.--[AUTHOR'S NOTE: The sparrow hawk lays ordinarily four or five eggs, occasionally only three, and very rarely six or even seven. The eggs are ovate, short-ovate, or oval in shape; and the shell is smooth but without gloss. The ground color is white, creamy white, or pinkish white, and rarely "light pinkish cinnamon." Usually they are more or less evenly covered with minute dots and small spots, which are often concentrated at one end or in a ring around the egg; sometimes they are more boldly and unevenly marked with larger spots or blotches. The markings are in various shades of brown, "Mars brown," "russet," "tawny," or "ochraceous-tawny"; a few eggs show handsome lavender shell markings. Some eggs are very sparingly marked, or nearly, or quite, immaculate.
The measurements of 169 eggs, in the United States National Museum, average 35 by 29 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 39 by 32, 31 by 28, and 33 by 26 millimeters.]
Very soon after hatching the young would bite vigorously at a finger that touched their bills, opening their eyes for an instant as they did so, but not until they were two or three days old did they keep their eyes open longer than a few seconds at a time. From their first day they uttered a faint cry, when expecting food, that suggested the scream of the mature Sparrow Hawk, also peeps similar to a chicken but more mournful, uttered when fed.
On June 13 the first manifestations of fear were detected, when the hawklets flattened themselves on the bottom of the nest, but such signs were rare for a few days thereafter. It was on the following day that for the first time they were seen ranged against the sides of the nest their backs to the wall; this arrangement appeared to be the normal one, thus the center of the nest was given to the one that was eating, or to the mother, when she came to feed them. When two weeks old they could run quite well; when placed on the floor of the blind they ran to the inner angles formed by the studdings and the walls, where with backs well braced they faced the foe, and a few days later met with savage claws an approaching hand.
When the nestlings were 16 days old--
a marked difference was observed in behavior of the males and females. When a finger or a stick was pointed into the nest all opened their mouths; the males did little more than this as they hugged the farthest side of the nest but the females, springing to the center of the nest, every feather on their heads standing out seemingly at right angles, wings spread, mouths open and squawking, were ready to claw and bite. . . . When the mother came in there was little clamor and no struggling for food on the part of the nestlings. In their earlier days they merely braced themselves in the circle where they lay, later they stood in an orderly row against the side of the nest. With great rapidity the mother tore the flesh and bending her head almost at a right angle with the bill of the young one she gave it the morsel. Her motions in this act were very dainty and graceful; this bending of her head was apparently necessitated by the hooked beaks of both. Sometimes the pieces served were so large that they were swallowed with difficulty. No more than five minutes were occupied in these feedings. At first the food served was "dressed meat," and the remainders of the feast were carried out by the mother, and eaten by her in the dead willow. On June 17, she brought in the body of a half-grown ground squirrel with the skin still on, probably I frightened her out prematurely, since she left the remnant of the squirrel. It was not until a week later that she began regularly to leave the quarry for the hawklets to feed themselves. Thereafter she entered the nest with the food, but remained inside less than a minute, sometimes no more than twenty seconds.
The same difference in temperament between the two sexes displayed by Miss Sherman's birds was shown in a case of some captive young sparrow hawks reported by Harold M. Holland (1923). He says: "Three were females, and it should be recorded that the lone male became, from the first, much the most tractable." He goes on to say that "all exhibited a strong inclination for bathing and in this they frequently indulged."
Dr. John B. May (1927) reports a similar case. He says: "It was interesting to note the difference in disposition between the two birds as their feathers rapidly developed. The female was much wilder from the start, and squealed loudly when approached. The male was very docile and would have made a delightful pet, I am sure."
Plumages.--[AUTHOR'S NOTE: When first hatched the young sparrow hawk is only scantily covered with white down on the feather tracts of the head, wings, and body. A larger young bird, about 6 inches long, is covered with longer, yellowish-white down, through which the first plumage is appearing on the head, central back, wings, tail, flanks, and pectoral tracts.
The sparrow hawk is one of the few species in which the sexes are decidedly unlike in the juvenal plumage, the color patterns of both sexes suggesting clearly the adult plumages of their respective sexes.
In the young male, the crown, wing coverts, and tertials are "deep plumbeous," with only a hidden trace of the rufous crown patch and with larger black spots on the coverts than in the adult; the upper back and scapulars are "terra cotta," broadly banded with black; the rump and upper tail coverts are "cinnamon-rufous," unmarked; the tail is as in the adult male, but the rufous is more restricted to the central feathers, there is more black-and-white banding on the lateral feathers, the subterminal black band is broader, and there is a broad terminal band of "pinkish cinnamon"; the head markings are much as the adult; the chin and throat are white, unmarked; the rest of the under parts are "pinkish buff," narrowly streaked on the breast and belly, and heavily spotted on the flanks with black.
In the young female the resemblance to the adult female is even closer. The mantle and wings are like the adult, but the brown is duller, "vinaceous-russet," and the black bars are broader than the brown spaces; the tail is like that of the adult female, but the black bars are broader; the under parts, except the white chin and throat, are "pale pinkish buff," heavily streaked on the breast and flanks with "sepia" or "bister." These juvenal plumages are worn through summer, but early in fall changes begin to take place, by fading and by a gradual molt of the body plumage, during September and October; by midwinter great progress has been made toward maturity.
During the first fall young birds have a restricted rufous crown patch, with black shaft streaks, which gradually increases and clears.
Meantime, young males become whiter below and some begin to acquire the cinnamon breast, but they are still heavily barred on the back and heavily spotted on the breast. Both of these sets of markings partially disappear by molt during the first winter, but young birds always retain some of these markings, as well as the juvenal tail, until the next complete, annual molt in September and October. Similar progressive changes occur in young females; paler colors are acquired below, with paler and narrower streaks, and narrower dark bars on the mantle.
Adults have a complete annual molt, mainly in September and October. I believe that the full perfection of plumage is not acquired until the bird is two years old, or more. The oldest males have the least spotting on the scapulars, a clear white or cinnamon breast, with only a few round black spots on the flanks, and the most rufous in the tail; probably successive annual molts are required to reach this perfection. There is a decided seasonal change in appearance, due to wear and fading; the colors are deeper and richer in the freshly molted fall and winter plumage than in the worn and faded condition of spring and summer. This is especially noticeable in birds from the desert regions.
Food.--The food of the sparrow hawk includes insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Its diet varies considerably according to season and locality; hence the contents of a bird's stomach often indicates merely local or temporary conditions. Where grasshoppers abound, they make up the hawk's principal food, birds being captured incidentally, but during winter in northern latitudes this hawk's prey is restricted to birds and small mammals.
The following quotations show the variety of the sparrow hawk's fare:
Dr. Harold C. Bryant (1918) reports from California that one sparrow hawk's stomach contained "15 black crickets"; another "pts. 1 white-footed mouse, pts. 3 Jerusalem crickets, one cricket"; and a third "pts. 5 grasshoppers." Ellison A. Smyth, Jr. (1912) says "they frequent the ivy-covered buildings on the campus [in Virginia], feeding on English Sparrows. The stomach and crop of one individual shot on the campus were densely packed with crickets. . . . I saw one catch a young Robin and perch with it on a telephone pole near one of the buildings, and calmly eat its capture in contempt of the onslaught of several excited adult Robins." Pierce Brodkorb (1928) reports that a bird, "taken April 24, 1926, at Winnetka. . .Illinois, was found to have fed upon ants."
Francis H. Allen says: "I once saw one eating a small snake. Two or three inches of the anterior end of the snake's body (the head had already been eaten) stuck up vertically from the bird's talons, and the hawk took pieces of flesh from the top down as one eats a banana." John B. DeMille (1926) relates the following novel experience: "Aug. 31, while walking the railroad near Gascons [Quebec], on the south shore, a bird darted into the bushes at the side of the track just ahead. I was able to get close without being seen and was surprised to discover him standing on the ground beside a mouse hole, in the manner of a cat. The bird stayed a minute or two and then hopped to an opening in the undergrowth. He flew away empty handed." Lewis O. Shelley, writing to Mr. Bent of the behavior of a captive female sparrow hawk, says that "she would touch no food except living frogs which she killed, eating only the contents of the abdominal cavity." Paul Bonnot (1921) tells of a sparrow hawk which "sailed gently down to one of the [cliff] swallow's nests, passing over a group of about fifteen people, supported himself with one foot, hanging nearly upside down in the meantime, inserted the other foot into the nest, and extracted its owner. The captured bird was an adult Cliff Swallow. The nest was not very deep, and the opening was large."
John Steidl (1928) says that in Illinois he "frequently saw, at the same spot in the road, a small chick in the talons of a Sparrow Hawk," and, accounting for the hawk's departure from its customary diet of insects, he remarks that "for about two weeks preceding the period during which the observations were made there had been a record-breaking period of rainy, cool, and cloudy weather. The insect population was considerably reduced by the weather. In fact, the hordes of insects that often detract materially from the pleasure of night driving at this period were conspicuously absent. It was not difficult to imagine, therefore, that the Sparrow Hawk was forced to turn to other sources of food."
Floyd Bralliar (1922) was successful "in learning exactly how these birds kill their prey, for," he says, "I not only saw them do it at close range, but succeeded in scaring them away without their having time to carry the chick with them. The hawk watches until he feels sure of his prey, then swoops downward straight as an arrow, strikes the bird in the back with his talons, and with his powerful beak tears the top of the head off. The point of the beak is sunk into the base of the skull, and the skull is torn off with a swift forward motion. I succeeded in getting a number of chickens immediately after the hawk struck them, and every one had the whole upper part of the skull torn off, the brain exposed, and the medulla mangled with the point of the hawk's beak.
To see a sparrow hawk strike a bird at rest on the ground is a wonderful sight, but the act is so rapid that "ere man hath power to say, Behold" it is over. The present is obliterated; we look on something which is past. A long straight swoop, a flash of wings, and the hawk is off with its prey. "So quick bright things come to confusion."
Behavior.--What appeals to us most in this daring little falcon is its lightness and quickness--the speed of lightning compared to the crash of thunder. Whether dashing past with sweeping wing beats, each wing beat carrying it far away; whether cruising along--the tail folded thin and the sharp wings, like a three-pointed star--the wings barely trembling, like the tips of oars just touching the water; or whether soaring against the sky, with tail fanned out, the wings stretched wide, it is always ready to veer like a flash, to mount higher, to drop the the ground, or to come to rest on a little twig.
Often too--perhaps the most remarkable of its aerial accomplishments--the bird, arresting its flight through the air, hovers, facing the wind, its body tilted upward to a slight angle with the ground, its wings beating lightly and easily. Then, sometimes, with a precise adjustment to the force of the wind, it stops the beating of its wings and hangs as if suspended in complete repose and equilibrium, seeming to move not a hair's breadth from its position. It is hunting, scanning the ground for a grasshopper or a mouse.
There are several instances recorded in literature that show the lighter side of the sparrow hawk's character in its relation to other birds. In some of these the association is of a playful nature as in the case mentioned by Edward R. Warren (1916), who "once saw on Sparrow Hawk after three Redtails," and in that related by William Brewster (1925), who "saw a Sparrow Hawk amusing himself at the expense of two Flickers. Calling clac-lac-clac-lac-clac-lac he would first hover over them for a few seconds, and then dart down close past them, to rise and hover again. Whenever they took flight he accompanied them, describing graceful curves and circles above and around them. That all this was done without malice on his part seemed obvious, and the Flickers evidently so interpreted it, for they showed no fear of him and more than once flew into a tree where he had just settled, alighting within a few feet of him."
Earle R. Greene (1930), in Atlanta, Ga., saw a sparrow hawk "uttering squeaky calls, dart several times toward and very close to the Duck Hawk, which was on a ledge of the dome [of a building]. The Duck Hawk flew away pursued by the Sparrow Hawk for some distance."
W. E. Cram (1901), showing the sparrow hawk in a hostile encounter, describes "An Aerial Battle" as follows:
On September 24, 1898, I witnessed a most vigorous and spirited fight between a Sparrow Hawk and a female Sharp-shinned Hawk. Each seemed equally the aggressor and fought after its own peculiar methods of hunting, the Sparrow Hawk always endeavoring to rise high above the other and then dash down falcon-like on the back of its antagonist, a maneuver which the other usually forestalled by turning on its back and striking upwards viciously, though once or twice I fancied that the Sparrow Hawk struck her pretty severely before she was able to turn.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk attacked with a horizontal flight, sometimes with a side movement, but oftener straight ahead, and to my surprise, appeared to have the advantage when flying against the wind, in spite of its opponent's more compact build and stiffer wing feathers. The two fought back and forth over the same ground for ten minutes or more, each endeavoring to gain the advantage by keeping to the windward, but continually beaten back by the gale. The Sparrow Hawk fought in silence, while the other uttered sharp, petulant shrieks from time to time.
Mr. Bent's notes tell of a somewhat similar case: "A sparrow hawk chasing a red-shouldered hawk. The large hawk had something, apparently a snake, in its talons. Both rose steadily in the air until they were mere specks in the sky, and the small hawk was invisible except through binoculars. It circled above the larger one and frequently darted down at it, as a kingbird would do.
H. I. Hartshorn (1918) notes a contest between a sparrow hawk and a starling in which the hawk had the advantage until it was frightened away. It seems remarkable that so small a hawk should be able to vanquish a bird so nearly its own size, but I can attest that it does so occasionally, for I saw a sparrow hawk carry a starling in its talons to the roof of a building, where, standing on the dead body, the hawk tore it to pieces.
Song birds ordinarily pay little or no attention to the sparrow hawk, especially if it is quiet. Louis B. Kalter speaks in his notes of a hawk perched "in a tree, while white-throated sparrows and juncos fed unconcernedly on the ground below, and a song sparrow sang."
Primarily a bird of the open country and the borders of woodland, and finding most of its food on the ground, the sparrow hawk is commonly seen in the characteristic pose of the falcons--hunched up and frowning--on high, exposed perches from which it can look out over wide stretches of grassland or pasture. It drops easily to the ground to capture a grasshopper or cricket it apparently has seen from a distance, and, on returning to its watch-tower, a telegraph pole or wire, or a branch near the top of a tree, it tilts its tail a few times, swinging it through a considerable arc before settling down to watch again.
We see it scattered numerously through the open flatwoods of the southern states, and of this region C. J. Pennock remarks in his notes that "they are rarely absent from the edge of the smoke which rises from extensive fires in the pinewoods and marshes, passing back and forth through a considerable pall of the uprising and wind-whirled smoke in pursuit of their winged prey which fly up in advance of the fire." He also tells of a bird that "with its feet picked a 'lizard' from a tree trunk, plucking it off without stopping its rapid flight."
Voice.--The common note of the sparrow hawk is a cry of fairly high pitch--about that of a robin's alarm note--divided into syllables, often six or eight, each one inflected upward a little, qui, qui, qui, etc. Although this cry suggests a similar call of the flicker, the delivery of notes is markedly different in the two birds. The flicker hammers its notes out, as if pounding a piano key over an over, whereas the sparrow hawk delivers them with a lighter touch, each note delicately staccato and set off by the briefest pause. The hawk's voice is not quite a pure tone; it contains a quality of slight roughness--a cry as opposed to a whistle. This note varies somewhat. I have heard it given so as to suggest the call of a yellowlegs--in this case the notes being inflected downward but without the brazen quality of the sandpiper's voice. The syllables killy-killy, etc., have long been applied to this note, and often it does have a disyllabic effect.
Francis H. Allen's notes mention "a short, shrill chatter and a note pee, with or without a slight rising inflection." This latter note is evidently a modification of ki-wee, ki-wee, ki-wee, noted by Knight (1908).
The sparrow hawk resembles other birds very little. From the mourning dove it is easily recognized by its large head and short thick neck. The semidomestic street pigeon and the sparrow hawk--fellow citizens nowadays in winter--may readily be distinguished by the agility of the hawk, its narrower, sharper wings, and, especially in flight, by its trim slenderness.
Fall.--J. Eugene Law (1915) describes a remarkable migratory flight of western sparrow hawks late in the afternoon of September 13, 1914, in New Mexico. He says: "Thousands sailed by in a continuous stream, all working leisurely south, often a hundred or more in sight from the car window at one time. Individuals frequently alighted on convenient trees and telegraph poles, and all seemed on the lookout for food. The flight seemed to be confined to the vicinity of the river and its adjacent thickets of rank weeds and willows interspersed with stretches of green meadow and alfalfa."
John Treadwell Nichols informs me that he has observed not infrequently an autumnal migration flight of sparrow hawks over the dunes that line the beaches of the southern shore of Long Island, N.Y. On favorable days in September and October they come coasting along, flying alone, although two or three may be in sight at one time, following the shore line to the westward at no great height above ground. On many days he has seen five or six birds pass by in the course of a morning; rarely more than a dozen in a single day and once in a while a pigeon hawk following along with them.
Winter.--As we pass by train through the South Atlantic states during the winter months, the sparrow hawk is one of the common birds we see from the car window. Perched on dead stumps by the side of the cottonfields, flying off from the wires along the track, hovering above the bare brown stubble, we see them again and again, nearly always alone. The traveler soon comes to associate the lone sparrow hawk, the lone red-headed woodpecker, and the flocks of mourning doves with the desolation that winter brings to the Carolinas.
During recent years there have been more and more published
records of sparrow hawks spending the winter in some of our large
cities. Here they find an abundant food supply, in the flocks of
resident house sparrows and starlings, and convenient places to
roost, even in the business districts of the city, in the niches
of the high office buildings. That they disregard, to a large
extent, the proximity of man is well shown by observations of
Nathan Clifford Brown (1906), who, for about four weeks in
January and February, watched a bird retire each evening to a
recess under the piazza roof of a large hotel in South Carolina.
Mr. Brown's observations also show that this bird's motto
was--early to bed and late to rise.
American Kestrel* Falco sparverius [Eastern Sparrow Hawk]
*Original Source: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1938. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 170: 106-121. United States Government Printing Office