Small, acrobatic hunter of song birds.
Family:Kites, hawks and eagles
28cm to 38cm
55cm to 70cm
110g to 342g
The sparrowhawk is a small raptor with short, broad, blunt-tipped wings and a long, slender tail. The tail is always longer than the width of the wing and has 4-5 bars. The sparrowhawk can be identified by its comparatively small bill, thin legs and slim lower body. The male has blue-grey upperparts and whitish underparts bearing strong reddish-orange barring on the body and underwing coverts. Undertail feathers are white. The female has grey-brown upperparts and whitish underparts with grey barring. Females can be up to twice as large as the male of the species. At close range, both sexes show yellow legs and feet with large black talons. They have a yellow bill with a black tip that is markedly hooked. Juveniles have dark brown upperparts. The feathers of the forewing are edged rufous and are visible at close range. The barring of their underparts is broken up and irregular on the breast. The juvenile can appear similar to female but with streaked underparts.
Only ten percent of the sparrowhawk’s hunting attacks are successful.
The sparrowhawk is mostly silent outside of breeding season. Its main call is a rapid chattering or cackling “kewkewkewkew”.
Simon Elliott, XC589041. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/589041.
The sparrowhawk will eat sparrows, finches and other small birds. When hunting, it will pick a single bird out from the flock and give chase, ignoring the other birds. Given their relative sizes, females can tackle larger birds than males. Prey is eaten on the ground or on a tree stump. Some sparrowhawks also catch bats.
For a full guide on what sparrowhawks eat, check out this article.
The sparrowhawk has been used in hunting for centuries.
The sparrowhawk is a widespread resident all over Britain and Ireland. However, they are not found in parts of the Scottish highlands. It does not shun gardens as some other hawks do, and will often ambush prey at bird tables. They can often be found in churchyards and were traditionally used by priests to control bird populations.
Flight characteristic is a few quick wingbeats relieved by a short glide to descend. Flight path is slightly undulating. Often flies low over ground to make surprise attacks. Female is larger than the male with a steadier flight. Males tend to hunt more in woodland, females more in fields and open spaces.
The sparrowhawk breeds in forests, near human settlements, and sometimes in dense parts of large parks. Mated pairs will build a wooden platform on a tree branch, usually close to the trunk. The male does most of the work in nest building and will also feed the female before laying eggs.
Nests are newly built each year but will sometimes utilise an old pigeon’s nest. The female will lay a clutch of 3-5 pale blue eggs that are speckled brown. These are incubated for around 34 days. She will raise one brood a year.
For more information on Sparrowhawk nesting, check out this guide.
On average sparrowhawks live for 4 years but they can live up to 16 years.
Sparrowhawks are resident across most of their range although birds in the north of the region migrate south in the autumn. In Britain, they are widespread, and migratory birds can also be found along the south coast during the autumn.
The sparrowhawk is a sacred bird in Slavic mythology.
The species has suffered greatly due to agrochemicals and sportspeople, although tighter regulations have led to a recovery in numbers. Between the 1950s and 80s, sparrowhawk numbers declined to the point where it was rare to see them in the south of England. The cause of this was found to be pesticides used in agriculture that was consumed by the grain-eating birds that sparrowhawks preyed upon. Since then, and with the banning of these pesticides, numbers have increased to pre-decline levels.
There are no specific collective nouns for the Sparrowhawk, instead, you can use general Hawk collective nouns such as:
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