The predatory behavior of wintering Accipiter hawks: temporal patterns in activity of predators and prey

Oecologia. 2007 May;152(1):169-78. doi: 10.1007/s00442-006-0638-2. Epub 2007 Jan 10.


Studies focused on how prey trade-off predation and starvation risk are prevalent in behavioral ecology. However, our current understanding of these trade-offs is limited in one key respect: we know little about the behavior of predators. In this study, we provide some of the first detailed information on temporal patterns in the daily hunting behavior of bird-eating Accipiter hawks and relate that to their prey. During the winters of 1999-2004, twenty-one sharp-shinned hawks (A. striatus) and ten Cooper's hawks (A. cooperii) were intensively radio tracked in rural and urban habitats in western Indiana, USA. Cooper's hawks left roost before sunrise and usually returned to roost around sunset, while sharp-shinned hawks left roost at sunrise or later and returned to roost well before sunset. An overall measure of Cooper's-hawk-induced risk (a composite variable of attack rate and activity patterns) generally reflected the timing of prey activity, with peaks occurring around sunrise and sunset. In contrast, risk induced by the smaller sharp-shinned hawk did not strongly reflect the activity of their prey. Specifically, an early morning peak in prey activity did not correspond to a period with intense hawk activity. The lack of early morning hunting by sharp-shinned hawks may reflect the high risk of owl-induced predation experienced by these hawks. The net effect of this intraguild predation may be to "free" small birds from much hawk-induced predation risk prior to sunrise. This realization presents an alternative to energetics as an explanation for the early morning peak in small bird activity during the winter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Hawks / physiology*
  • Indiana
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Seasons*