This weekend... watch out for a hunter

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This weekend... watch out for a hunter

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Juvenile sparrowhawk by Nigel Blake

Early autumn is a really good time to watch out for a very special bird in your garden.

Young sparrowhawks are striking out on their own into the big, wide world and we get a lot of queries about mystery birds of prey seen in gardens. Roughly 90 per cent of the time, they turn out to be sparrowhawks. If you're not sure if you've seen a sparrowhawk, check out our identification page.

Some people aren't fond of seeing these predators in their garden. As the cliche goes, nature is red in tooth (or beak) and claw and sometimes that can be a bit too close to home.

When I'm lucky enough to see a sparrowhawk, I wish it good luck. Only 10 per cent of its hunting attempts will be successful!

Being an effective hunter is never easy. And it's even more difficult if you're a young bird which doesn't have the benefit of experience. Only 34 per cent of sparrowhawks hatched this year will see their first birthday next spring, and lack of hunting know-how plays a large part in that.

Male sparrowhawk by Steve Round

Seen well, a sparrowhawk is a magnificent, beautiful bird. But all too often, this is the kind of view you get, as they whizz out of sight!

Tell us if you've had an encounter with a hunter recently - please leave a comment!

Sparrowhawk by Graham Catley

Comments
  • Thanks for all your comments!

  • I saw one swooping and diving on the edge of a field upsetting a few crows, they really do move fast. Location was Haddington, East Lothian.

  • We have had a Sparrowhawk in our garden for a few days. It seems to have a bad eye & just sits either on the shed roof or the fence. I got quite close to it & it just sat there.

    We have a lot of Sparrows in our garden amongst other small birds so I suppose its an attraction for this bird.

  • Have just seen a bird of prey in the garden for the first time, gone too quick to take a photo. It created an enormous kerfuffle among the large population of sparrows that feed in the garden who all dived for cover. From the above article it was very definitely a juvenile sparrowhawk obviously after a quick spot of lunch! Beautiful bird.

  • I saw my first young sparrow-hawk in my garden this weekend! It was eating a sparrow. I live in a very built up area in south London so this was a great sight. I have a bird feeding station to try and encourage as many birds as possible and I grow plants that produce either flowers for the wildlife or berries for the birds. Unfortunately  we get a lot of crows and the frighten off a lot of the small birds like the blue tits. I do have a big sparrow community which is great to see feeding every day. They wait in the hedges for me to fill up the feeders!

  • My first encounter with a sparrowhawk was when we saw one in a neighbours garden.  It had caught a collared dove and was standing on its chest, engaging in a strange death dance, raising one foot and then the other like it was waiting for the birds last heartbeat before beginning to consume it.  All that was left after a short while was a neat pile of buff coloured feathers on the lawn.  We watched with a terrible fascination while the hawk devoured its prey, really wanting to look away, but not able to in case we missed something.  I actively feed the local population and am rewarded by large numbers of visiting garden birds.  On about 5 occasions now I have been lucky enough to see a sparrowhawk land, firstly a female on top of my feeding pole, since then I've seen males swoop and land in the trees, and only on Friday did I spot a juvenile land in a conifer, hop about a bit before coming to the front of the tree for me to get a really good look at him.  I've found various piles of feathers in my garden, but don't get too upset, as these gorgeous birds of prey are only a step up in the food chain, and help to keep a natural balance.

  • My wife was by the kitchen sink, (quite right too!, don't tell her I wrote that!), when she heard a rather loud bang outside and a cacophony of shrieks. She and I went running out to investigate and found a sparrowhawk on the ground with a starling in it's clutches. She, (my wife, not the bird, either of them), flapped her tea towell, (kitchen sink life), around and the starling was released.

    Now my opinion is that the BOP's need to eat, however my wife agreed, but thought that it would be better that they didn't use our bird feeder as a fly through take-away.

    Rick Hughes, Buckingham

  • Hi Kate, since I've moved to Loughborough one year ago I've saw a couple of sparrow hawks, flying over the town center, close to the university campus and in the industrial area but at the moment I didn't see any young with them. Probably on the next season. The last encounter with the male was 1 week ago close to the train station.

  • Ourselves and our neighbours have a sparrowhawk hunting intermittently in our gardens. There have been many occassions over the spring and summer when he/she has been in evidence, sometimes sitting on a dividing fence, sometimes giving us a rather aggressive 'keep off, this is mine' stare as it rips the feathers from a successful catch. We live in Carrville in Durham.

  • Spotted one last week attacking sparrows in my garden in Stockton-on-Tees

  • I've seen a sparrow hawk twice in my garden, most recently swooping in after one of the mice that live under our neighbour's shed. Amazing birds, not sure if it caught the mouse or not though!

  • I was lucky enough to see a sparrowhawk and hobby perched in neighbouring branches last week:

    www.rspb.org.uk/.../376546.aspx

    The sparrowhawk had been watching the hobby's dragonfly catching technique keenly I think:

    www.rspb.org.uk/.../376547.aspx

    Both juveniles perhaps?

  • I live out in darley, just near Harrogate on the edge of the Yorkshire dales. We have had a young female sparrowhawk in our garden daily for the last 2 weeks. I have managed to photograph it through the window. I haven't seen it catch anything and we still have loads of sparrows. It is getting more brave and chased a woodpigeon this morning. Stunning bird. I just love them :-)

  • Her in Surbiton Surrey we have had a sparrow hawk around for the last 2 weeks. It dives into the hedges and so far have only seen 1 catch which it sat with on the lawn before flying off with its snack.

  • Hiya Kate, I was privileged to find myself within 5 foot from a sparrow hawk ...whilst letting my chickens out I heard the rustling of a bush where a sparrow hawk came out with a young sparrow in it's claw and stood in front of me for a few moments...how beautiful these birds are!

    I feed wild birds and enjoy watching them but we have to realise this is nature