This small accipiter is the most conspicuous migrant at most watch sites across North America. It breeds in forests and feeds almost exclusively on small birds, moving south with the songbird migration and foraging along the way. The large numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks that breed in the boreal forests of Canada spend the winter in the United States. They're a familiar winter bird in suburban areas where they commonly hunt at bird feeders and around city parks. Because they're so numerous, they may be seen at nearly any hawkwatch site throughout the season, though their numbers generally peak during the first week of October. What appears as a broadly distributed pulse of the species from mid-September through late October is actually two distinct pulses: juveniles come through as a distinct wave before adult passage peaks in the second week of October.
Because Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks look very much alike, even good birders have difficulty making accurate identifications of these birds in the field. A visit to a hawkwatch site in the first week in October provides numerous opportunities to see both species, sometimes flying side-by-side, which makes comparing the field marks and flight characteristics of the two easier.