EEEK! Sparrowhawk

P1170134What do you like to eat?

I live on a farm. I rent a flat there which is really just a part of the farmer’s house, so we live on top of each other and we get along okay. Apart from paying the rent, I help him out with his computer and I walk his dog and in turn he shows me around and introduces me to people. We both have a fondness for birds and he has a bird feeder just below my kitchen window, which I help him with.

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He had a peanut feeder and a seed feeder and he had a little empty tray at the bottom and almost as soon as I moved here I noticed the Robins, so I started to put meal worms out for them.

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The Robins were a great success but adding sunflower hearts into the mix brought us Goldfinches.

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Pretty soon the garden was as charming as could be.

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All of this activity inevitably caught the eye of a predator.

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We have no shortage of predators around here. Buzzards circle above us and Peregrines are often seen here too. This is a young Sparrowhawk. One of last years chicks it has yet to develop it’s adult plumage. We can’t tell if it is male or female yet but I am advised from the size of the bird that it is probably male.

It is lovely to see such a beautiful bird up close but it’s presence in the garden did raise a bit of a problem. Fortunately it’s hunting technique wasn’t very successful.

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The song birds recognised the hawk and understood it’s intention. I knew when the hawk was around even if I couldn’t see it because the garden was empty of any other birds.

Excuse the quality of this next picture, I took it because I had just seen the Sparrowhawk fly into that bush beside the feeder. He is waiting in ambush and I am up above watching the drama unfold.

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The hawk waited there for about twenty minutes and no birds came down so he emerged from his hideout and flew up into a tree. Shortly after I saw him fly off. Another forty minutes passed before a Robin lit down and I knew then that the drama was over.

I am writing this in retrospect, all of this happened a couple of weeks ago now. The hawk stayed with us for two days and he didn’t make a kill. A bird can only spend so much time on a hunt and this one moved on to easier hunting grounds.

So why is our garden Sparrowhawk proof? I think it is because it is so open. the garden is backed by pasture with a fairly open orchard on one side.

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The Sparrowhawk is a woodland bird and an exceptionally good ambush predator. It likes confined, tight spaces with plenty of cover and few escape routes. Our garden just didn’t work for him because everyone knew the moment he arrived on the scene, they took cover and they stayed hidden until they were sure he had gone.

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Typically town gardens do a very good job of mimicking his woodland habitat. They are generally quite small with plenty of cover and bird feeders to attract the food items and Sparrowhawks get a lot of their prey there, we are just lucky that conditions were not right for him here.

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Since his visit I have been hunting the local woodlands and hedgerows for signs of sparrowhawk kills. They are messy eaters, they have to pluck their prey before they can get to the flesh. When an animal with teeth kills, a Fox for instance, it rips it’s prey apart breaking the feathers in the process. So you can recognise a hawks kill by looking at the ends of the feathers that are left.

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Smooth tips like this indicate that the feathers were carefully plucked and that would be by a Sparrowhawk. I am not finding many kills around here.

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A lovely bird but I am glad that it has gone.

Everything has gone back to normal.

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