I heard a new noise on Saturday in my garden. I always look when I hear something I can’t recognise from its call. To my surprise when I opened the curtains I saw the yellow eyes of a small bird of prey staring at me from my little tree. At first the bird appeared to be trapped amongst its tight, twisted branches, flapping around and seemingly unable to free itself. I closed the curtains briefly to think about how best to release it and wondered if it was sick or injured. When I opened the curtains again I realised the bird was absolutely fine, it had moved out of the tree and was holding down a struggling Collared Dove which I hadn’t noticed previously, it had obviously taken it in, or near to, my garden where lots of them congregate to take the food I put out. I was able to have a proper look at the bird of prey by now, as it was focussed only on finishing off the Collared Dove and plucking its feathers, and was not at all bothered by me just a couple of feet away. It was a Sparrowhawk. Over the course of an hour or so, I watched it pluck the feathers, then the meat off its prey. Quite gruesome, but it was also fascinating to see this beautiful and efficient killer so close up, I felt quite privileged, as this was happening outside my window, in Orchard Park!
Sparrowhawks can be seen all over the UK throughout the year. As this one has a brown back, it’s likely to be a female. Their scientific, or Latin name is Accipiter nisus and they belong in the family Accipitridae with other hawks and eagles.
More info on Sparrowhawks from the RSPB website:
“Sparrowhawks are small birds of prey. They’re adapted for hunting birds in confined spaces like dense woodland, so gardens are ideal hunting grounds for them. Adult male sparrowhawks have bluish-grey back and wings and orangey-brown bars on their chest and belly. Females and young birds have brown back and wings, and brown bars underneath. Sparrowhawks have bright yellow or orangey eyes, long, yellow legs and long talons. Females are larger than males, as with most birds of prey.
Where to see them
Sparrowhawks breed in woodland but also visit gardens and more open country. They can be seen in towns and cities, as well as rural areas. Listen for the alarm calls of smaller birds as they spot a sparrowhawk and will alert other birds in the area to the danger. In the UK sparrowhawks are found everywhere, except for parts of the Scottish Highlands, the Western Isles and Shetland.
When to see them
At any time of year; you might see birds displaying to each other in early spring, when males perform a ‘rollercoaster’ flight, climbing up and diving back down again to impress females.
What they eat
Mainly small birds, but 120 different species have been recorded. Males can catch birds up to thrush size, but females, being bigger, can catch birds up to pigeon size. Some sparrowhawks catch bats.
|Europe||UK breeding*||UK wintering*||UK passage*|
* UK breeding is the number of pairs breeding annually. UK wintering is the number of individuals present from October to March. UK passage is the number of individuals passing through on migration in spring and/or autumn.”