Sparrowhawk

A pair of sparrowhawks has been seen hunting in the park.

Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) prey upon birds; they are specialists, adapted to hunting in the confines of woodland, and have been recorded preying on more than 120 different bird species, all the way from tiny goldcrests to pheasants. If you find scattered feathers where a blackbird or great tit has been killed, the killer might well be one of this pair of sparrowhawks.

[1] male sparrowhawk [2] female sparrowhawk

The female is 25% larger and heavier than the male and can tackle much larger prey: pigeons, thrushes or even one of our ever increasing population of magpies. The male is smaller and more inclined to prey upon tits, finches and sparrows.

Sparrowhawks tend to kill very young birds or the sick, old, injured and weak; they keep the populations of their prey species healthy. During the summer months almost half of the pair’s diet will be fledglings; of the fledglings that survive the sparrowhawks’ attentions this summer, a high proportion will die of starvation during their first winter. The number that will survive to breed next year will be unchanged by the presence of these predators.

Contrary to popular belief, sparrowhawks do not control the numbers of their prey, but the numbers of prey do control the number of sparrowhawks. If this pair leaves, there will be no obvious increase in songbird numbers, nor will there be an obvious decline if the hawks return.

But sparrowhawks are the very definition of an apex predator and their presence in the park is a tribute to its biodiversity.

Header picture: Sparrowhawk in flight by Mark Kilner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr.com

5 thoughts on “

  1. Quite often we see these perched on our garden fence, taking a rest from patrolling the park fields…..beautiful birds.

  2. Once, a female sparrowhawk came right to my kitchen window and stared at me; her eyes were bright yellow and the look she gave me was so fierce, I was quite startled.

  3. Sparrowhawks are indeed beautiful birds and do of course have their place in the country side. But as I actively encourage a wide range of birds to feed in my garden making my feeders and bird tables a target for sparrowhawks, I feel it is my duty to protect them where possible.

    After hearing the awful almost human screams of blackbirds as they are carried off in the claws of a sparrowhawk, I now actively discourage them. When I hear the warning cries of birds alerting others that a sparrowhawk is nearby,
    I rush to the scene and a few loud claps and hisses will soon make the sparrowhawk move on and try elsewhere – not PC I know and sometimes to late anyway!

    Having seen me do this several times, as soon as he hears the tell tale commotion, my little staffy now feels it is his job to rush out and bark at the sparrowhawk until it flies away and he’s usually quicker and more effective than me too.

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