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We have a resident Sparrowhawk

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 02 Mar 2014 at 02:26 PM

It seems we have a resident sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). Regularly during the last couple of years, I have found the scatterings of feathers indicative of a sparrowhawk having plucked its prey in the garden. This morning’s breakfast bird appears to have been a white domestic pigeon (Columba livia).

We see a lot of white domestic pigeons here - these two were on nextdoor's roof


I didn’t see the kill itself, which is always rather grisly and not what you want to wake up to on a quiet Sunday morning. What I did see on looking out of the window was a partly plucked and eaten carcass under the Magnolia tree, but with no sparrowhawk in sight. Where the bird had gone or why, who can tell, but shortly afterwards it returned to its kill and started eating again, looking around after each beakful. Opening the window for a clearer shot was tricky if the sparrowhawk wasn’t to be scared away but, fortunately, it turned round for a few minutes and didn’t see.





Having finished with the torso, the sparrowhawk then plucked more feathers from the wings and started on those. After fifteen minutes or so, it stopped, appeared to come to a decision and suddenly took off, with the remains of the pigeon held in its talons. Good, that means we won’t have to dispose of it ourselves, though it would have added to the soil. I expect the sparrows and other birds will make use of the feathers when they come to make their nests.



 More feathers being plucked out


Watching that sparrowhawk was a gruesome but fascinating sight, for they are magnificent birds and extremely skilled hunters, agile even in thick undergrowth and capable of short bursts of up to 50 kph. The sparrowhawk in the garden this morning was a female, as shown by the colours on her legs and underside which have cream and brown banding, compared to the male’s orange-brown colouring. The female is also larger than the male and takes larger prey. The sparrowhawk I saw eating a goldfinch in 2012 was also a female and I wonder if it could the same bird or whether the Magnolia tree is simply a choice dining locale.



 Shortly before taking off with the remainder of the pigeon


A lot of people get upset about seeing sparrowhawks taking other birds and worry about the population of songbirds going down as a result. It’s worth remembering that these birds are opportunists and more likely to go for the easiest prey, birds that are slow, old, injured or weak. Something else to consider, as the RSPB points out, is that '...if songbird numbers increase, sparrowhawk numbers increase, and if songbird numbers go down, so do sparrowhawk numbers’. So if you do have a resident sparrowhawk, it’s because your garden sustains a variety of suitable wildlife, which is what we’re aiming for. ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ is part of the equation.

'Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed'
 Alfred Tennyson


Phot's-Moll said:

Great pictures, Miranda. I'd much rather see this than have to dispose of birds killed by cats (something I've had to do on several occasions)

on 02 Mar 2014 at 03:27 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I've also had to pick up many dead birds that have been killed by cats, Phot's, and much prefer to see the bird being eaten than left on the ground.

on 02 Mar 2014 at 04:01 PM


Miranda.  Great pics.  Great account.  Please don't misinterpret this, but.  Reading your blogs, i often say to myself.  Hey Mike.  It would be really graet to be able to meet and chat about gardening and wildlife.  I am a FLS, keeping it short.  Recorded under, Flora & Fauna.  I agree with you and Phot's.  Likewise in the same vein as the adventerous film crews etc.  Not always, what we see in the natural world is particularly nice, but this is creation.  Problems arise when mankind steps in.  Why can't we leave well alone.  Miranda.  Once again.  Great topic.  Much enjoyed and appreciated.

on 06 Mar 2014 at 12:21 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Mike. I think I would need at least three lifetimes to meet with people and talk about all our shared interests. There is always something happening and so much to say about it all.

on 15 Mar 2014 at 04:59 PM