Sparrowhawk

Accipiter nisus

28-38cm

Appearance

This is a small and rapid bird of prey; it has long wings with a straight, blunt tail and wide, rounded wings. The sexes are slightly different. The male is blue-grey on top with orange-tinged underparts; his tail is grey and has 4-5 dark bars. The female is larger; her upperparts are grey-brown, her underparts are paler and barred and she has a white stripe over her eye. Juvenile birds have brownish upperparts and distinct brown bars on the pale breast.

Habitat

There are populations throughout most of Britain, excluding areas that are mountainous or with concentrated agricultural land. Found in woodland (including in urban areas) and hunts along woodland edges, ridges, clearings and gardens.

Character

This is usually a solitary bird who is notoriously secretive, a characteristic it uses for hunting; it watches and waits for its prey, then attacks, taking prey by surprise. Birds display during spring, moving slowly across the sky then performing a dive with their wings closed; in normal flight, wingbeats are quick.

Food

Diet consists predominately of birds; the male hunts species like Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Great Tit, while the female pursues bigger birds such as Blackbird and Starling.

Breeding

Nests are built in the forks of trees in late April or May. The female lays 4-5 eggs which she incubates for 32-36 days while the male brings her food. Young leave the nest at around 28 days and inhabit branches close by; they fly a few days afterwards, but rely on their parents for a further 20 days.

Population

Mostly resident birds found in Britain, with more than 35 000 pairs; up to 10 000 live in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Dawn and dusk are the peak times for hunting birds. Some observers are able to hear the alarm calls of prey specific to a Sparrowhawk intrusion; tracking these calls can lead to observation of this bird. A collection of feathers at a frequented plucking area is also another sign of Sparrowhawk presence.

Voice

Utters a high-pitched 'ke-ke-ke-ke' when nesting and a 'kew kew kew' if alarmed.
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