Birds Of Southern California

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small hawk described from Hispaniola, with males being the smallest hawks in the United States and Canada, but with the species averaging larger than some Neotropical species, such as Tiny Hawk. The taxonomy is far from resolved, with some authorities considering the southern taxa to represent three separate species: White-breasted Hawk (A. chionogaster), Plain-breasted Hawk (A. ventralis), and Rufous-thighed Hawk (A. erythronemius). Sharp-shinned Hawk is often separated into four species, with the northern group (see distribution) retaining both the scientific name and the common name: Sharp-shinned Hawk (A. striatus). In addition to the nominate taxon (A. s. striatus), it includes subspecies perobscurus, velox, suttoni, madrensis, fringilloides, and venator. The three remaining taxa, each considered a monotypic species if split, are the White-breasted Hawk (A. chionogaster; Kaup, 1852), Plain-breasted Hawk (A. ventralis; Sclater, 1866) and Rufous-thighed Hawk (A. erythronemius; Kaup, 1850). The breeding ranges of the groups are entirely allopatric, although the wintering range of the nominate group partially overlaps with the range of chionogaster (as is also the case with certain taxa within the nominate group). This allopatry combined with differences in plumage (see appearance) and, apparently, certain measurements, has been the background for the split, but hard scientific data are presently lacking (AOU). Disregarding field guides, most material published in recent years (e.g. AOU, Ferguson-Lees et al. p. 586, and Dickinson et al.) has therefore considered all to be members of a single widespread species – but not without equivocation: Ferguson-Lees et al. say that if they were to make a world list, they would include the three taxa as separate species (p. 75), and the AOU's comment includes the note "split almost certainly good". Storer (1952) suggested that the southernmost populations within the nominate group were paler below, thus approaching chionogaster. This has also been reflected in recent guides, where A. s. madrensis of southern Mexico is described as being relatively pale below (compared to more northern subspecies), but if this is a sign of intergradation with chionogaster or a north-south cline which includes both the members of the nominate group and chionogaster remains unclear. In Bolivia, ventralis and erythronemius approach each other, but no evidence of intergradation is known – something that, without actual specimens, also would be hard to prove due to the variability in the plumage of ventralis. (Excerpt from Wikipedia)