Any of many small to medium-sized diurnal birds of prey, particularly those in the genus Accipiter, known as the true hawks, and including the goshawks and sparrowhawks. The term hawk is often applied to other birds in the family Accipitridae (such as the kites, buzzards, and harriers) and sometimes is extended to include certain members of the family Falconidae (falcons and caracaras).
The great majority of hawks are more useful to humans than they are harmful, but there is still widespread prejudice against them. Occasionally they destroy poultry and smaller birds, but usually they eat small mammals, reptiles, and insects. Hawks have many foraging techniques, but the most typical in their pursuit of prey is raking, or swiftly following the animal's efforts to escape. Once the hawk has secured the prey with its powerful talons, the bird dismembers it with its sharply pointed, strong beak.
Hawks occur on the six major continental areas. Most species nest in trees, but some, like the marsh hawk, nest on the ground in grassy places, and others nest on cliffs. They lay from three to six brown-spotted eggs. The so-called true hawks--members of the genus Accipiter (sometimes also called accipiters)--are exemplified by the sharp-shinned hawk (A. striatus), a bird with a 30-centimetre (12-inch) body length, gray above with fine rusty barring below, found through much of the New World, and by Cooper's hawk (A. cooperii), a North American species similar in appearance but larger--to 50 cm long. A long tail and short, rounded wings give these fast, low-flying birds great maneuverability. They feed on birds and small mammals; of all the New World raptors, Cooper's hawk is most suspect when poultry yards are raided. The goshawk and the sparrowhawk are also members of this group.