Sparrowhawks have featured a few times on my blog. The first was a fleeting visit where I didn’t even have time to pick up my camera. The second visit, last year, was of a male sparrowhawk surveying the area.
The most recent visitation by this enigmatic bird arrived on a dreary August bank holiday Monday. David was just about to do the dishes when he exclaimed, ‘there’s a sparrowhawk on the wall!’
For the next half hour or so we both watched on amazed as a female sparrowhawk sat on the wall and devoured her prey, a poor little starling. We had never seen a sparrowhawk with its prey before. It was a bit gruesome and sad for the starling but you have to think with your head and not with your heart on these matters. If there were no small birds for the sparrowhawk to prey upon, then there would be no sparrowhawks either.
Due to their prey being primarily songbirds (they do eat small mammals too), sparrowhawks often come into conflict with birdwatchers. However there is no correlation between a dip in songbirds and predation by sparrowhawks. In the past there have been two studies on the influence of predation and songbird numbers. Both studies noted that there was in fact more of an increase in songbird numbers than an actual negative correlation when predated by sparrowhawks. Sparrowhawks are noted to prey on the old and infirm, creating a survival of the fittest gene pool for songbirds. Sparrowhawks feed mainly on sparrows, tits, finches and starlings, however female sparrowhawks can hunt birds as large as a pigeon. Recent research led me to discover that the sparrowhawk sometimes does not quickly dispatch of it’s prey. Anything bigger than a sparrow will face a lingering death while being eaten, if a vital organ/artery is not punctured. It made for a sobering read.
The sparrowhawk has in the past been subjected to persecution by trophy hunters and in the 1950’s their numbers crashed due to usage of pesticides such as DDT in farming. It was only after DDT was banned and the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 was passed protecting sparrowhawks, that their numbers increased.
The sparrowhawk is one of the UK’s smallest birds of prey. It is the perfect ambush predator, easily maneuvering in enclosed spaces such as woodland and gardens. However only 1 in 10 hunts result in a meal for the sparrowhawk. Females can be up to 25% larger than males. Sparrowhawks are relatively short lived, their maximum age is around 3 years, but some can live to around seven. They are found all over the UK apart from the Highlands of Scotland. Their eyes change colour with age, starting green and growing more yellow with maturity.
Sparrowhawks are seen as a top predator and their presence indicates that the bird population in an area is healthy. Though it was unpleasant to witness the sparrowhawk with its prey, I was amazed at seeing her in the yarden. Nature after all isn’t sunshine and flowers. I must be doing something right with the feeding of the little birds in order to bring the larger birds to the area.
Have you come close to a sparrowhawk? Seen one with it’s kill? What are your thoughts on UK raptors?
Thanks for reading,
Some of the web resources I visited while compiling this blog were:
British Bird Lovers.
Living with Birds.