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Feature Creature - Sparrowhawk

Credits: Steve Waterhouse

Chances are you've heard of this feature creature - the SPARROWHAWK. These beautiful birds are the leopards of the garden, swooping in to launch surprise attacks on the birds using your feeders. If everyone around the bird table suddenly scatters, chances are that a sparrowhawk has been spotted on the prowl.

Fantastic facts: 

 

* Number of eggs =  4 - 6 laid          * Enemies = other birds of prey, crows and magpies, people

 

* Favourite foods = woodpigeons, collared doves, tits, sparrows, finches, thrushes

 

* How long they live = the oldest known wild sparrowhawk lived for 17 years

 

* Super-powers = speed and stealth          * Latin name = Accipiter nisus (hawk of sparrows)

 

What can are these winged beasts and what can they do? Sparrowhawks are:

 

Clever diners

 

Imagine you are a hungry sparrowhawk looking for a quick meal. What do you suppose are the chances of catching a small and lightening fast bird in the middle of the coutryside? There are wide open spaces where your lunch can spot you coming from a mile away. There are trees to hide in when you come zooming past. There is plenty of room for your prey to fly around and escape. And where on earth would you start to look?

 

Sparrowhawks have found the answer. They have discovered that people have done all the hard work for them and gathered small birds in one place. They have found the perfect hunting ground. Your garden.

 

Ambush hunters 

 

You have created the perfect hunting ground for your neighbourhood sparrowhawk. You have attracted tasty blue tits and pigeons together, distracted them with tempting food and blocked them in with fences, sheds and the walls of your house. The sparrowhawk simply learns the best route through your garden in advance, then waits for dinner to arrive. Then it pops over the fence with a flash, traps a fleeing bird in the small enclosed space of your yard and gobbles it up.

 

Messy eaters

 

Like all birds of prey, sparrowhawks don't have teeth with which to chew their food. They instead tear small pieces to swallow using their razor sharp bill. To reach the edible parts, sparrowhawks must first pluck the feathers from their prey. This leaves large areas of scattered feathers, usually on lawns or other open spaces where they have brought down their prey.

 

If you find a pile of feathers in your garden, you can investigate to see whether the bird they belonged to was eaten by a bird of prey like a sparrowhawk. Look at the very tip of the feathers stalk and check to see if it has a rounded or broken end. If it is still in one piece, it is likely to have been plucked. If it is jagged or rough, it may have been chewed away from the body by a land predator like a cat.

 

Different sizes   

 

Unlike many mammals, female sparrowhawks are much bigger than the males. This means they are also able to hunt larger prey such as pigeons and doves, whereas males hunt mainly small birds. Females are mostly brown with a stripey cream belly, and males are blue-grey with lovely orangey fronts. Both have piercing yellow eyes.

 

Recovering

 

Many birds of prey, including sparrowhawks, became quite rare some time ago. Shooting and poisoning killed many until opinions started to change towards them. Thanks to better protection and conservation of our countryside, they are returning in force and becoming more common in towns and gardens. 

 

Follow this link to visit the species profile page of the sparrowhawk.

 

You can watch an amazing film of a sparrowhawk in a UK garden below.... Enjoy!