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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 all birds of prey.
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.
- 110-196g (male); 185-342g (female)
- UK breeding:
- 35,000 pairs
This bird species has different identifying features depending on sex/age/season.
Our Wildlife Enquiries team probably receives more queries about sparrowhawks than any other species of bird of prey. They can be confused with several other birds of prey. Find out what to look for.
Sparrowhawk (less than a year old) - Young sparrowhawks have brown wings and backs, with chestnut-brown edges to the feathers. Their breast feathers have brown streaks or chevrons. Adult female sparrowhawks are also brownish, but with horizontal bars on the breast feathers and a greyer back and wings.
Sparrowhawk (adult male) - Adult male sparrowhawks have orange breasts and slate-grey or bluish backs and wings. As they get older, their eyes turn from yellow to orange.
Kestrel - Kestrels sometimes come into gardens, but sparrowhawks are more common visitors. If you can see their eyes, sparrowhawks have piercing yellow or orangey irises, whereas kestrels' eyes are all-dark.
Peregrine - Although peregrines are breeding successfully in many UK cities now, a bird which has killed a pigeon in your garden is still more likely to be a sparrowhawk. Again, look at the eyes - peregrine eyes are all-dark.
Merlin - In 99 per cent of garden situations, merlins can be ruled out. They are supremely adapted for hunting in open country - the enclosed spaces of gardens just aren't their style. It's very unlikely that you'll see one sitting on a fence or roof. Unlike sparrowhawks, merlins and other falcons always have all-dark eyes.
Goshawk - Goshawks can look similar to sparrowhawks (a large female sparrowhawk can be almost the same size as a male goshawk), but again, they don't really 'do' gardens. They are very shy birds which inhabit large areas of woodland or tracts of open countryside.