Sparrowhawks, (Accipiter nisus), are one of the most beautiful birds in the UK. They are a predator, of course, so many people wonder what these beauties eat. So, below, we're looking at what sparrowhawks have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it might surprise you.
A sparrowhawk's diet mainly consists of birds. They don't mind the occasional bat, either, though. However, the prey of sparrowhawks is largely birds. As females are larger than males, they can actually take quite large birds too. They have been known to kill wood pigeons!
They are many rumours about sparrowhawks and what they eat, and it is time for these rumours to be answered. Below, we're going to look at what sparrowhawks eat and what they don't, to try and end this confusion once and for all.
Sparrowhawks are not built for long chases; they don't have the stamina for them. So, most of the birds they eat are either injured, old or sick. They can fly up to about 50 km/h (around 30 mph) for short bursts. However, these birds are very easily seen by their prey. So, even with these quick bursts of speed, only about one in ten of their attacks result in food. This is why you can see a sparrowhawk hunting for rodents and small mammals, like mice, rats, and even rabbits sometimes. It is sometimes easier for them.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk eating a bird
A sparrowhawk doesn't really change its diet throughout the year. It is birds, birds and more birds, with the occasional bat thrown in to keep things interesting. There are fewer birds in the winter, so they do sometimes go for small rodents like mice and voles, but this is quite rare.
In summer, sparrowhawks mainly eat other birds, and around 40% of their diet is recently fledged birds.
Ah, when we hear bird songs in the summer, it is a wonderful noise. An evening in the garden with a glass of wine wouldn't be complete without the smell of freshly cut grass and bird song all around us. Well, the sparrowhawks treat this bird song as a dinner bell. If you have sparrowhawks in your area, you will likely see them very active in the summer. Particularly in early summer when the young birds are learning the ropes. About 40% of a sparrowhawks diet is fledglings.
Sparrowhawk perched on a branch, on the lookout for prey
Sparrowhawks don't stick to one type of bird for their meal. Males are bigger enough to attack thrushes, but females can take on pigeons. However, sparrowhawks tend to prey on the young, weak and old, so any small bird species is on the menu for a sparrowhawk, including:
Sparrowhawks have incredible eyesight, and they use this to scan the environment to find birds. They are extremely good at spotting movement. So, if a bird stays still, the sparrowhawk can likely miss it.
Once it spots its prey, it will either take it out of the air or wait for the prey to stop and eat, become distracted and then move in. Sparrowhawks have learnt that our gardens are brilliant hunting grounds. As there is food, their prey is distracted enough that they won't see them coming.
For more information on Sparrowhawk hunting, check out this guide.
Sparrowhawk diving for prey
Sparrowhawks can catch birds in flight, but they don't always do this. In fact, it is much easier for the sparrowhawk to wait until the bird is eating or otherwise distracted. They can then fly down and grab it without any fighting from the bird.
Once they catch their prey, sparrowhawks will eat it there and then. They may take it to a safer location if absolutely necessary. This could be a tree stump, high up in a tree, or even in tall grass.
Anywhere that sparrowhawk feels safe is where lunch will take place. However, it usually just eats it in full views of its friends.
Sparrowhawk eating a bird on the ground in winter
Baby sparrowhawks are just as fussy eaters as their parents, but it is their parent's behaviour that is responsible for this in the first place.
Sparrowhawks almost exclusively eat birds, with a few rodents and bats thrown in to keep things spicy. And the babies will eat whatever the parents bring back to the nest. So, they eat birds too, only a bird that's already been inside of another bird!
A sparrowhawk in the nest with their chicks
Sparrowhawks hunt with their eyes, and they are very good at spotting movement. This means it is very difficult to feed sparrowhawks anything unless you are prepared to feed it live animals and things.
However, a few clever wildlife photographers have figured out that you can use the carcass of a fresh kill. Sparrowhawks will often leave a fresh kill halfway through and return to it later. So, you can pick up that carcass and then place it where you want to take photos.
Like most predatory birds, sparrowhawks don't drink too much. You may see them occasionally have a beak full of water, but it is much rarer than spotting one eating. They get most of what they need from their prey. And as they don't sweat, they don't waste too much water.
Sparrowhawk having a drink of water
Adult sparrowhawks have no real threats to worry about. Their young, though, is taken by pine martens and goshawks.
Try and keep the feeding stations undercover. You won't stop sparrowhawks completely, but you may reduce their attacks.
You can move feeding stations in your garden, so they are better covered and protected. You can also buy bird-scaring machines and hawk decoys and stuff. However, these will scare the other birds in your garden too.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk in flight
No, sparrowhawks are meat-eaters, and they get their nutrients from the seeds, nuts and berries that their prey eats.
Yes, sparrowhawks don't mind a rat or two. Their main diet is birds, but they do hunt on foot every now and then for rodents.
Sparrowhawks love a mouse. They aren't their main diet, but a sparrowhawk has no problem hunting on their feet and will happily have a mouse for dinner.
A sparrowhawk with recently caught prey on the ground
Sparrowhawk can occasionally take swallows, but they are extremely nimble in the air. While it's rare, you may see a sparrowhawk try and get one for dinner.
Sparrowhawks have about 120 species of birds that they call prey, and magpies are on that list.
While about 98% of a sparrowhawks diet is birds, they will hunt mammals too, and the occasional rabbit is taken.
Sparrowhawk stood on a mossy log
Not really, although sparrowhawks will leave a meal halfway through and come back to it. They prefer fresh meat, so they get to work straight away and chow down.
Yes, sparrowhawks do eat blackbirds, and they make up a good percentage of their diet.
Only female sparrowhawks are big enough to take down a pigeon, but yes, they will happily have pigeons for lunch.
There is no information anywhere that a sparrowhawk has ever eaten a cat. If a cat has been attacked by a sparrowhawk, this is likely because it got too close to its young. But sparrowhawks are not going to willingly pick a fight with another predator.
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