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Sparrowhawk

All about sparrowhawks

The sparrowhawk is a small, fast-flying bird of prey. Once common throughout Britain, it was greatly affected by agricultural pesticides. Since these pesticides were banned  their numbers have risen again.

What to look for

The male weighs about 200g and with a length of up to 40cm and a wingspan of 70cm. He has a slate-grey back and reddish, barred under parts. The female is about 25% bigger, with brown upper parts and paler under parts with darker bars across them. The wings of both sexes are relatively short and rounded.

Did you know?

  • The male sparrowhawk mainly eats small birds such as sparrows, chaffinches, yellowhammers and great tits. The larger female can take starlings and thrushes and evenbirds the size of a woodpigeon. The sparrowhawk will occasionally catch mice, voles and young rabbits. When there is a shortage of food it will even eat insects such as beetles.
  • The sparrowhawk is a very agile hunter, hiding under cover and then launching out at speed to catch the prey in its talons, whilst it is in flight. Often just the force of the impact kills the prey. It carries its prey to a ‘plucking post’ which is usually a fence post or tree stump. It perches there and plucks the prey before eating it.
  • Sparrowhawks are solitary birds and only come together to breed during spring and early summer. The female builds a nest that is made up of both green and dry twigs, and most often placed in the branches of a conifer, close to the trunk.
  • The female lays between four and six bluish-white eggs specked with brown. The eggs are incubated for about 35 days before they hatch. During incubation the male supplies the female with food. Both parents feed the nestlings for three weeks to a month before they leave the nest. The nestlings require a large quantity of food, as each one will eat two or three sparrow-sized birds every day.
  • A sparrowhawk can often be spotted in the fields by the crowd of small birds that gather and mob it in an attempt to drive it away from their nests.
     

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Sparrowhawk Printable Factsheet

Status

The sparrowhawk was once common throughout The United kingdom. Its numbers were severely affected by agricultural pesticides, such as DDT, which accumulated through the food chain and greatly reduced the fertility of the birds. Bans on the use of these pesticides have allowed sparrowhawk numbers to begin to recover, with an estimated 40,000 pairs in the UK.

Habitats

The sparrowhawk is present thoughout the year, mainly on farmland, in hedgerows along country lanes, and in coniferous and mixed woodland. In recent years it has also started to move into cities, towns and suburbs attracted by the abundance of prey and relatively safe nesting opportunities.

Where to see

In open country, the sparrowhawk can be seen flying low over ground, skimming hedges and fences, but staying close to cover so it can rapidly pounce on its victims. In woodland, its agility enables it to fly swiftly between the trunks and branches. In spring it can sometimes be seen displaying in the air, soaring or slowly flapping its wings. This display sometimes includes a spectacular dive with its wings closed.

 

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