After writing about the joy of seeing so many birds coming in to the garden, I can’t really protest the visit of a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). Coming home for lunch the other day, going into the kitchen, reaching for the kettle and automatically glancing out of the window looking onto the garden, I saw feathers drifting through the foliage of the Magnolia tree. It could mean only one thing: a sparrowhawk. As we later discovered from the feathers (useful feather identifcation page here), this one had taken a goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) and was up in the tree making a meal of it.
The sparrowhawk taking lunch in the garden was more likely to have been male than female, as the females are up to 25% larger than the males. The males are also more agile and will take smaller prey, such as finches, sparrows and bluetits. The females are more likely to go after larger birds, such as thrushes and starlings and pigeons. It makes a good partnership - both birds raise the young ones in the nest and going after different prey means they should be able to feed the young.
As I said in my last blog, the flowers bring in the insects and the insects bring in the birds, many of them small birds - and small birds bring in sparrowhawks. Still, even sparrowhawks have to make a living somehow and if nature is going to be ‘red in tooth and claw’ right outside the window, then so be it.
Adult sparrowhawks have no serious predators, but they only thrive if they have a plentiful food supply and that means small birds and mammals. If the populations of prey go up or down, sparrowhawk populations will rise and fall correspondingly. So while I wasn’t overjoyed to see a goldfinch being eaten right in front of me, it’s good that the goldfinches were there in high enough numbers for the sparrowhawk to take one.