Accipiter gentilis



The female is larger and browner than the male, but the sexes are otherwise similar. Plumage is mostly grey-brown on the upperparts and paler underneath with intricate dark barring. There's a dark patch behind the orange eye and a white 'eyebrow' above, and the legs and feet are yellow. Juveniles are mostly brown with buffish underparts marked with teardrops spots.


Spread widely but sparsely across Britain, particularly in Wales and southern Scotland. Prefers mature coniferous or deciduous woods and forests for living and nesting, and also hunts in open country.


When birds are gliding and circling, they often fan their tails, revealing the fluffy white undertail. Wings are held flat and the secondary flight feathers can give an 'S' curve to the rear of the wing. These birds are nimble hunters, moving through trees with ease, often hiding in cover before surprising prey. Usually seen in solitude except when nesting. When birds are displaying, they have an aerial performance that sees the white undertail feathers spread as the bird flap slowly then dives suddenly downwards; the female is more involved in this dance than the male.


Diet includes birds, for example Jays, Woodpigeons, Pheasants, Starlings, crows and thrushes. Will also eat small mammals such as rabbits.


Nesting begins in March or April, and nests can be found in the forks of trees, often reused from years before. Female lays 3 or 4 eggs which she incubates for 35-38 days; when the young hatch, she's fiercely territorial. After 35 days the young birds may leave the nest for nearby branches, and they fly 10 days after that.


Most British birds stay near to their breeding sites, though young birds may explore in the late summer. Approximately 400 pairs live in the area.

Observation Tips

The New Forest in Hampshire, the Forest of Dean and Haldon Forest are established points for observation of raptors such as these. If lucky, the sky-dance displays may be witnessed on sunny days in late February and early March.


Utters a harsh 'kie-kie-kie' during breeding season, and also if alarmed.
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