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280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

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“Sparrow Hawks” Are Not Hawks

I’m not what you call a real dedicated bird watcher, but I do enjoy seeing the great variety of birds we have here in Pennsylvania including a wide variety of songbirds that visit our bird feeders, woodpeckers, birds of prey, waterfowl, and of course our game birds. I not only enjoy seeing our many bird

I’m not what you call a real dedicated bird watcher, but I do enjoy seeing the great variety of birds we have here in Pennsylvania including a wide variety of songbirds that visit our bird feeders, woodpeckers, birds of prey, waterfowl, and of course our game birds. I not only enjoy seeing our many bird species but as a wildlife artist I have also painted many different birds from goldfinches to bald eagles. While the many colors and the different behaviors are interesting to observe I must admit that the larger birds probably grab my attention much quicker and especially birds of prey; maybe it’s just their larger size alone that causes us to pay more attention.

Of course, the bald eagle fits the large size category quite well and we are certainly blessed in recent years to have a good number of eagles now residing here in Pennsylvania. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t see at least one or more bald eagles and I know of at least four or five nest sites within just several minutes drive of my home. The eagle isn’t the only large bird of prey that seems to be showing up more often since I am also seeing a fair number of ospreys. Last week a couple of friends and I were fishing a local creek when an osprey dove down and plucked a trout from the creek only fifty yards away.

Naturally those big birds get our attention quicker but there is another fairly common “hawk” that I also look out for and that’s the sparrow hawk which is actually not a hawk at all. The sparrow hawk, more appropriately termed an American Kestrel, is really a falcon; while falcons and hawks are similar in some ways there are also differences. Hawks tend to be larger, tend to feed on a variety of warm-blooded animals that they capture with their talons and their flight patterns may be different.

The American Kestrel is the smallest of the falcons with a wingspread of about 20 inches or so. They are quick to identify when you see the rusty red head cap with a black then white and then another black band beneath the eye. These small falcons are often seen sitting on a high telephone wire sometimes with a mouse hanging from their talons. While the name “sparrow hawk” indicates that they eat sparrows the truth is they eat more insects and mice than songbirds.

Kestrels have a high-pitched unique call sounding like a, “killy, killy, killy.” The kestrel’s flight while hunting is also very unique; they will often hover in one spot on rapidly beating pointed wings while zeroing in on potential prey. Kestrels tend to inhabit more open woods, orchards, and fields and as I already mentioned they are often seen perched on a telephone wire or pole in wait for prey.

Kestrels nest in tree cavities and abandoned woodpecker holes but they will also nest in old buildings and they will also take up residence in man-made nest boxes. In recent years kestrels seemed to have also adapted fairly well to urban environments and can be found in cities nesting on ledges and in crevices on the sides of buildings.

While their numbers seemed to have decreased some in recent years, they are still fairly common. I must say though that while watching a kestrel hover then dive on a grasshopper is interesting watching; an osprey snatching a fish from my fishing spot while I’m at work trying to catch one does grab my attention much quicker.

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