It’s been a while since Bird of the Week covered any of our birds of prey, so today we turn our attention to one of our most common. The Sparrowhawk.
There are many things to distinguish the Sparrowhawk, but chief among these must be the eyes. Whether it’s the yellow of the female or the orange-red of the male, those eyes have a focused ferocity that makes your blood run cold. I was once in the garden when I heard a bird land on the fence. I turned around and found myself staring at a female Sparrowhawk. She stared right back. Despite the fact she was no threat to me, I still felt a little intimidated before she flew off.
We are fortunate in that there is a pair that breeds near us, so we see both male and female, and juveniles, most years. I mentioned a male last year when he opted to just sit on our bird feeders, as if hoping a goldfinch would not notice him. Both of them will have a go at birds on the feeders, and are sometimes successful. It’s not a given that a pair will stay in the same territory, they may separate, they may move. But they can occupy a good territory for years.
If you have seen both birds at reasonably good distance, you will know the female is significantly larger. This works well for them as a breeding pair. In Autumn through Winter the female can tackle bigger prey and build up her reserves, her strength, for being at the nest through spring and summer. When the breeding season rolls around and the trees are packed with foliage, the male’s smaller size makes him more manoeuvrable through tight spaces, meaning he can better hunt the abundance of smaller prey that will help feed his young.