Hawks are known for their sharp talons, keen eyesight, and powerful flight. There are over 270 species found all over the world and they come in a variety of sizes, from the Tiny Hawk to the massive Ferruginous Hawk. In this article though, we will focus on four of the smallest hawks in the world.
4 of the Smallest Hawks in the World
It’s worth noting that the classification of a bird as small, medium, or large is somewhat subjective and can vary depending on the context. However, in the case of hawks, the size of a particular species is generally determined by its body length, wingspan, and weight. The sharp-shinned hawk, for example, has a wingspan of 17-22 inches and a body length of 9-13 inches, making it the smallest of all hawks in North America.
It is difficult to create a definitive list of the smallest hawks in order of size. For example there is debate about certain hawks being their own species or a subspecies of more common hawks, and others have very small populations in remote areas without much scientific data available. However we’ve put together a list of four species that are considered to be among the smallest hawks in the world.
|7.9 – 10.5
|14.9 – 18.9
|75 – 100
|9.1 – 10.6
|15 – 20
|74 – 105
|9.4 – 13.4
|16.9 – 22.1
|87 – 218
|11 – 16
|22 – 30.7
|105 – 350
Additionally, for most hawk species females are significantly larger than the males. So when it comes to the ranges listed in length, wingspan and weight for each species, males will be at the low end of the range while females make up the higher end of the range.
1. Tiny Hawk
- Scientific name: Microspizias superciliosus
- Wingspan: 14.9-18.9 inches
- Body length: 7.9-10.5 inches
- Weight: 75-100 grams
The Tiny Hawk is one of the smallest true raptors in the world, which is probably obvious by its name. This small hawk species measures only 7.9 – 10.5 inches in length and males weigh in around 75 grams, comparable to a large songbird. Tiny Hawks live in Central and South America, ranging from Nicaragua to southern Brazil.
They have a dark gray back with a slightly darker cap, a white throat, and white underparts barred with gray. Their yellow, hooked beak is tipped with black, and they have red eyes.
Tiny Hawks stick to forest habitat where their main prey is other birds. In particular, they are known for hunting hummingbirds. They will either sit quietly and wait until a bird passes by to dart out and snatch them, or ambush the smaller birds while they are perching. Some studies suggest that Tiny Hawks may learn popular perching spots of hummingbirds and routinely stake out those areas. Rodents and bats also make up a portion of their diet.
For the most part, they are a secretive species, often perching out of sight in the middle forest canopy. They can soar high above the trees like larger hawks, but more often dart quickly in the thick of the forest.
2. Little Sparrowhawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter minullus
- Wingspan: 15-20 inches
- Body length: 9.1-10.6 inches
- Weight: 74-105 grams
The Little Sparrowhawk is the smallest member of the Accipiter genus, one of the main genus’s containing hawks. Males only weigh 74-85 grams and are about 10 inches long, with females being about 13% larger. These small hawks can be found in woodland and grassland regions of eastern and southern sub-Saharan Africa.
Little Sparrowhawks have dark upperparts and light underparts with fine barring. Males vary from dark grey to almost black, while females tend to be browner. They have a dark yellow eye and orange-yellow legs and feet. One of their distinguishing features is a white patch on the rump and two white spots on the central tail-feathers.
Similar to other small hawks, their main prey is birds such as doves and thrush species, but they also hunt rodents, bats, lizards, frogs and even large insects.
Females do most of the nest construction, building a platform of sticks and leaves in the fork of a tree such as poplars and Eucalyptus. They may also choose to use an old nest built by other small hawk species like the Shikra and Gabar Goshawk. Males help a bit with incubation of eggs, but dad’s main duty during this time is brining food to the female and chasing other birds away from the nest.
3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
- Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 inches
- Body length: 9.4-13.4 inches
- Weight: 87-218 grams
The Sharp-shinned Hawk, nicknamed the “sharpie”, is the smallest hawk in North America. They are also considered one of the smallest in the world, measuring 9-13 inches in length. They can be found throughout Canada and the United States, but also several subspecies exist in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America.
Sharp-shinned hawks prey on small birds and rodents they chase through the forest. Their long legs and short wings help them navigate through the trees on a high-speed chase. While nesting, they are hard to find as they stick to forests with dense canopies. Many people are familiar with sharpies after catching them stalking their backyard bird feeders. They are known to be attracted to feeders, looking for unsuspecting doves and other birds to snatch.
The best time to spot them though is during fall migration. They travel south into the U.S. from their summer range in Canada, and are seen in large numbers at hawk watch sites.
Sharp-shinned Hawks have a blue-gray back with reddish-orange barring on their cream colored chests and dark banding on their tails. They look very similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, but with a more rounded head and squared-off tail.
4. Eurasian Sparrowhawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter nisus
- Wingspan: 22-30.7 inches
- Body length: 11-16 inches
- Weight: 105-350 grams
The Eurasian Sparrowhawk, also known as the Northern Sparrowhawk, is a small member of the Accipitridae family. They can be found throughout Europe and Asia, and are one of the most common raptors in that region. At their length of 11-16 inches and weight around 105-350 grams, they are still small but are approaching the medium-sized category.
This species has a compact body, with short wings and a long tail that helps it maneuver through dense vegetation in pursuit of prey. Males have a gray or bluish-gray upperparts and fine orange barring on his underparts. Females are much larger than the males, with brown or grayish-brown upperparts and brown barred underparts.
Eurasian Sparrowhawks in the colder, northernmost regions tend to migrate south during the winter. They prefer to hunt in woodlands and along woodland edges. Like the other small hawks on this list, birds make up a large portion of their diet. They hunt in several ways, but most often hiding in vegetation and waiting for prey to come close.
Even though smaller birds should beware, these sparrowhawks have their own predators to be worried about. Barn owls, Peregrine Falcons, eagles, foxes and martens are all known to hunt sparrowhawks. Their population is considered stable today, a positive comeback from their decline in the second half of the 20th century due to DDT and insecticides.
Hawks vs falcons: what’s the difference?
While hawks and falcons are both birds of prey, there are some key differences between the two.
Size and Shape
- Falcons: Generally smaller and more streamlined than hawks. Falcons wing appear longer and more pointed, and they flap them more often while flying.
- Hawks: Can come in many sizes but typically larger than falcons. Their wings are more broad with finger-like feathers at the ends. They do more soaring and gliding than falcons.
- Falcons: favors hunting birds, bats and small rodents
- Hawks: favors rabbits, rodents and small mammals
- Falcons: Known for their incredible speed and agility, falcons often catch their prey in mid-air. They have a notch on their beak called a “tooth”, which they use to kill their prey.
- Hawks: Versatile hunters, hawks are capable of catching prey on the ground or in the air, utilizing their maneuverability to navigate through various environments. Hawks have a hooked beak but no “tooth”, and tend to use the talons on their feet to kill prey.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.