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In the September nor-westers also fly Hawks, sometimes in veritable companies. Evil little sharp-shinned rascals flap and sail through the high air. Eight or ten are sometimes visible at once. Pigeon and Sparrow Hawks in lesser numbers flit south-westward along the mountains of the coast. Great Rough-legged Hawks beat heavily out of the evening woods. Marsh Hawks zig-zag above the swampy meadows; and the Broad-winged Hawks that have been raised in the deepest woods of the Island, whither their fledgeling pipings may lure the young student to a glimpse of their fierce eyes and long yellow legs, now show their broad-banded tails and scream across the spruce-tops. – Charles William Eliot II, “The Summer Birds of the Sieur de Monts National Monument”.

story + images by Seth Benz

Sharp-shinned Hawks continue to ply the autumn skies over Acadia. However, volunteers at our hawk-watching station atop Cadillac Mountain, now in its 28th consecutive season since establishment in 1995, have documented a population decline in Eliot’s “little sharp-shinned rascals.”

Our analysis of historical data for the Landscape of Change project found that Sharp-shinned Hawks were considered “common” in the 1880s and are “uncommon” today – categories that were not different enough for us to include Sharp-shinned Hawks among the “declining” species.

But expanding the comparison beyond Mount Desert Island, with data from the Hawk Migration Association of North America, tells a fuller story.

A map of the continental United States and Canada with arrows indicating declining trends in migrating Sharp-shinned Hawks at three sites in the west, two in the midwest, and many in the east and Florida. Seven states and one province show an increasing Christmas Bird Count trend, and ten show a decreasing Christmas Bird Count trend for this species.

Among all monitoring sites for North American raptors, more showed declining numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks during the last decade than any other species, with nearly half of 76 sites continent-wide showing declines from 2009-2019. Eastern sites show a slightly higher decline.

Threats to the species include loss of mixed-conifer forested habitat, diminishing prey (songbird) abundance, pesticides and other chemicals, and West Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne vector that can fatally impact a bird’s nervous system.