RSPB
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Conservation status: Green

Sparrowhawks are small birds of prey. They're adapted for hunting birds in confined spaces like dense woodland, so gardens are ideal hunting grounds for them. Adult male sparrowhawks have bluish-grey back and wings and orangey-brown bars on their chest and belly. Females and young birds have brown back and wings, and brown bars underneath. Sparrowhawks have bright yellow or orangey eyes, long, yellow legs and long talons. Females are larger than males, as with most birds of prey.

Illustrations

Overview

Latin name

Accipiter nisus

Family

Hawks, vultures and eagles (Accipitridae)

Where to see them

Sparrowhawks breed in woodland but also visit gardens and more open country. They can be seen in towns and cities, as well as rural areas. Listen for the alarm calls of smaller birds as they spot a sparrowhawk and will alert other birds in the area to the danger. In the UK sparrowhawks are found everywhere, except for parts of the Scottish Highlands, the Western Isles and Shetland.

When to see them

At any time of year; you might see birds displaying to each other in early spring, when males perform a 'rollercoaster' flight, climbing up and diving back down again to impress females.

What they eat

Mainly small birds, but 120 different species have been recorded. Males can catch birds up to thrush size, but females, being bigger, can catch birds up to pigeon size. Some sparrowhawks catch bats.

Population

EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
-35,000 pairs--

Distribution

Key

The sparrowhawk is the bird of prey you're most likely to see in your garden. They are sometimes confused with kestrels (which have dark eyes), merlins (which are birds of open country) and goshawks (which are far rarer and very shy).

Audio