Attention, Park City bird lovers: do not be surprised if, on a trip to fill your backyard feeder this winter, you find a fluffy feather pile lying atop the snow nearby. It’s a sure sign that you are nourishing not just hungry chickadees and finches, but also the relatively small sharp-shinned hawk. These secretive raptors often stake out bird feeders, relying on their incredible speed and maneuverability to snatch their diminutive prey right off the feeder, or even in midair.
Adult sharpies’ plumage is grayish-brown above with light to reddish feathers underneath. They are the smallest of North America’s three accipiters (about the size of a blue jay) and are often confused with their slightly larger cousin, the Cooper’s hawk, which also lurks around bird feeders. With a readily available food supply—courtesy of a well-maintained feeding station—many sharpies don’t bother to migrate, preferring the relatively easy life found in and nearby residential areas.
But before you make plans for doing away with these opportunistic predators, be advised that all raptors are protected by federal law, so it’s hands off in terms of deadly force. That leaves really only two ways to deal with this dilemma: the obvious solution is to stop feeding. Seed-eating birds will disperse, often to another feeder in the neighborhood, within a week or two. If you do withhold feeder seed, don’t worry that you’re starving all those cute little birds. Studies show that the seed in feeders makes up only part of their daily diet; they still get most of their food from natural sources. The other option is to simply accept this classic, though artificial, predator-prey relationship and embrace the fact that if you feed them, they (the sharpies) will come.