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Sparrowhawk

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Male Sparrowhawk Male
Grey-blue upperparts with finely barred pale underparts.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Accipiter nisus
Length: 28-40 cm  (12-16")
Wing Span: 60-80 cm  (24-32")
Weight: 150-320 g  (5-11 oz) Female Sparrowhawk Female
Like male but larger and grey-brown upperparts.
Breeding Pairs: 32 000
Present: All Year
Status: Green

Description

The Sparrowhawk has pale barred underparts, like the Goshawk, but is less heavily built.

The wings are short, broad and blunt and the tail is quite long and has dark barring across it. Their yellow legs are surprisingly spindly. The eye and cere are also both yellow, but they can become orange-yellow or even orange-red in older birds. The hooked bill is grey.

The female (or falcon) has grey-brown upper parts and is much bigger than the male (or tercel), which is a little bigger than a Mistle Thrush but smaller than a Kestrel. The barring on the whitish underparts is brown.

The male has grey-blue upper parts and the barring on the whitish underparts is orange-brown. The cheeks are orange-brown too.

Juveniles have dark brown upper parts and coarsely barred below.

In flight, they tend to soar between powerful bursts of several wing beats: flap-flap-glide. They never hover and are remarkably agile even at speed.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Call
  Quicktime mp3

The Sparrowhawk makes a shrieking "ke-ke-ke-ke" call.

Feeding

Their diet is predominantly small birds; the size difference between sexes means that the female often preys on larger birds, like thrushes and starlings and occasionally pigeons, while the male preys on smaller birds like tits, finches and sparrows. Small mammals, nestlings and carrion are also taken.

The Sparrowhawk's hunting technique relies on stealth; it usually watches from a perch among cover for prey, then flies fast and low, again using any available cover, so that it can then seize its intended prey with complete surprise, but if it misses, lengthy chases can ensue even among trees and undergrowth.

I have watched Sparrowhawks hunting in my garden and its pièce-de-résistance is to chase prey through the holly bush without so much as ruffling a feather - I cannot place my arm in the bush without being scratched or prickled!

Nesting

The Sparrowhawk builds its nest in a tree. The nest is a quite flat platform made from twigs.

The eggs are about 40 mm by 32 mm, smooth and non-glossy, bluish-white with dark brown markings. Incubation is by the female only. Both adults feed the young birds, though the newly-hatched are usually fed by the female with the male hunting and bringing the food to the nest.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April 1 2-7 32-42 c. 32

Movements

Apart from juveniles dispersing short distances from their natal grounds, Sparrowhawks are generally sedentary.

Conservation

The Sparrowhawk population crashed because of the use of organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, in the 1950s and 1960s, which causes a thinning of the egg shell that cannot then take the weight of the incubating female. The use of these chemicals was banned and Sparrowhawk population has now more or less recovered.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

The chart above shows that they are not regular visitors, but their visits are becoming more frequent as more House Sparrows and finches gather in the garden.

Their hunting is far from flawless and I estimate that less than 1-in-20 attacks result in the Sparrowhawk having a meal, for example:


Last revision: 26 Dec 2014
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2015.
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