The Sparrow Hawk
Nature Bulletin No. 103 February 15, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
THE SPARROW HAWK
The Sparrow Hawk is the smallest and the handsomest American hawk.
Most of them migrate southward in the fall but a few remain here all
winter. The sparrow hawk, the pigeon hawk, the duck hawk and the
gyrfalcons all belong to the falcon family, distinguished by their long
pointed wings and streamlined shape. In the falcons, also, the upper bill
of the beak has a tooth-like projection near the sharply-hooked tip, with
a corresponding notch in the lower bill.
Other than the sparrow hawk, only the much larger and broader-winged
marsh hawk has markings on the male distinctively different from those
of the female. The male sparrow hawk has ashy-blue wing coverts,
chestnut tail with one black band near the end, and white underparts
dotted with black spots. The female has chestnut wing coverts barred
with black, several bars on her chestnut tail, and white underparts
streaked with black. The heads of both are ashy-blue on top and white
on the sides and throat, with a conspicuous black vertical mark before
the eye and another behind the eye.
The sparrow hawk seldom soars at great height. It is more apt to sail
back and forth over a meadow, rather low, making a few quick
exaggerated wing-strokes at intervals, hunting insects and mice. When
they can get what they like, their diet is more than 50% grasshoppers
and other insects, about 25% mice, perhaps 10% small birds, and the
remainder spiders, frogs and small snakes. Fortunately, all hawks, and
all owls except the great horned owl, are protected in Illinois and may
not be killed.
The sparrow hawk usually nests in old woodpecker holes but sometimes
in barns, factories or church steeples. Its call is a high-pitched metallic
hysterical chatter remarkably like the warning note of the ground
squirrel. Quickly repeated, it sounds something like "killy - killy - killy
It should be called the Grasshopper Hawk.
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Update: June 2012