HAWK (O. Eng. hafoc or heafoc, a common Teutonic word, cf. Dutch havik, Ger. Habicht; the root is hab-, haf-, to hold, cf. Lat. accipiter, from capere), a word of somewhat indefinite meaning, being often used to signify all diurnal birds-of-prey which are neither vultures nor eagles, and again more exclusively for those of the remainder which are not buzzards, falcons, harriers or kites. Even with this restriction it is comprehensive enough, and will include more than a hundred species, which have been arrayed in genera varying in number from a dozen to above a score, according to the fancy of the systematizer. Speaking generally, hawks may be characterized by possessing comparatively short wings and long legs, a bill which begins to decurve directly from the cere (or soft bare skin that covers its base), and has the cutting edges of its maxilla (or upper mandible) sinuated[1] but never notched. To these may be added as characters, structurally perhaps of less value, but in other respects quite as important, that the sexes differ very greatly in size, that in most species the irides are yellow, deepening with age into orange or even red, and that the immature plumage is almost invariably more or less striped or mottled with heart-shaped spots beneath, while that of the adults is generally much barred, though the old males have in many instances the breast and belly quite free from markings. Nearly all are of small or moderate size—the largest among them being the gos-hawk (q.v.) and its immediate allies, and the male of the smallest, Accipiter tinus, is not bigger than a song-thrush. They are all birds of great boldness in attacking a quarry, but if foiled in the first attempts they are apt to leave the pursuit. Thoroughly arboreal in their habits, they seek their prey, chiefly consisting of birds (though reptiles and small mammals are also taken), among trees or bushes, patiently waiting for a victim to shew itself, and gliding upon it when it appears to be unwary with a rapid swoop, clutching it in their talons, and bearing it away to eat it in some convenient spot.

European Sparrow-Hawk (Male and Female).

Systematic ornithologists differ as to the groups into which the numerous forms known as hawks should be divided. There is at the outset a difference of opinion as to the scientific name which the largest and best known of these groups should bear—some authors terming it Nisus, and others, who seem to have the most justice on their side, Accipiter. In Europe there are two species—first, A. nisus, the common sparrow-hawk, which has a wide distribution from Ireland to Japan, extending also to northern India, Egypt and Algeria, and secondly, A. brevipes (by some placed in the group Micronisus and by others called an Astur), which only appears in the south-east and the adjoining parts of Asia Minor and Persia. In North America the place of the former is taken by two very distinct species, a small one, A. fuscus, usually known in Canada and the United States as the sharp-shinned hawk, and Stanley’s or Cooper’s hawk, A. cooperi (by some placed in another genus, Cooperastur), which is larger and has not so northerly a range. In South America there are four or five more, including A. tinus, before mentioned as the smallest of all, while a species not much larger, A. minullus, together with several others of greater size, inhabits South Africa. Madagascar and its neighbouring islands have three or four species sufficiently distinct, and India has A. badlus. A good many more forms are found in south-eastern Asia, in the Indo-Malay Archipelago, and in Australia three or four species, of which A. cirrhocephalus most nearly represents the sparrow-hawk of Europe and northern Asia, while A. radiatus and A. approximans show some affinity to the gos-hawks (Astur) with which they are often classed. The differences between all the forms above named and the much larger number here unnamed are such as can be only appreciated by the specialist. The so-called “sparrow-hawk” of New Zealand (Hieracidea) does not belong to this group of birds at all, and by many authors has been deemed akin to the falcons. For hawking see Falconry.  (A. N.) 

  1. In one form, Nisoides, which on that account has been generically separated, they are said to be perfectly straight.