I called it a Cooper’s Hawk when it first burst out of the hedgerow at Butner Gamelands in the northeast part of Durham County. It looked big and shouldery, and the front edge of the wings seemed to be a straight line. I snapped a few photos and marked it as such on my notepad before turning once again to the clocks of sparrows foraging in the weedy fields nearby. I should have known I botched the call, as I’ve been in something of a bird ID funk lately, but it wasn’t until I got home and put the photos up on my computer that I realized it was a pretty obvious Sharp-shinned Hawk. Or, at least, as obvious as the two classically difficult species get.
Accipiter striatus is the smallest of the three species of bird hawks found in North America, and in North Carolina it’s definitely the middle child when it comes to regularity of its cogeners. Cooper’s Hawks are everywhere anymore, and Northern Goshawk is a banner bird this far south, but still it seems that I see far fewer Sharpies than I used to, such that I don’t typically expect them anymore. Maybe that had something to do with my brutal ID yawner.
This almost certainly was a female bird, one of those tweeners that can be difficult as they overlap with small male Cooper’s Hawks. But the tiny bill was fairly obvious once the photos were thrown up on my compute,r and more, the apparent rounded tip to the tail appeared to be a function of some tail molt. So it goes.
The day Accipiters become easy is the day I stop learning.