Eurasian Sparrowhawk

• ORDER • • FAMILY • • GENUS & SPECIES-

Falconiformes Accipitridae Accipiter nisus

^where in the world?

Widespread in Europe, the northwestern tip of Africa and northern

Asia, as far east as

Japan; wintering range extends into southern and eastern Asia

f key features

• A fierce, dashing, but secretive hawk that ambushes small birds, often catching them in the air with its talons

• Favors densely wooded countryside studded with fields and other open areas, where its hunting technique comes to the fore

• Many populations crashed due to use of pesticides in farming, but are now recovering

BREEDING

Twisting and turning through trees or darting over garden walls, the sparrowhawk combines aerial agility with the element of surprise in order to seize unwary prey.

HABITAT

The sparrowhawk is primarily a woodland bird.Trees provide its nesting and roosting sites and, perhaps most importantly the cover from which it ambushes passing birds.

The hawk is also found in open or cultivated country, punctuated by pockets or lines of trees, such as thickets, orchards and tall hedgerows. Farmland next to thick woodland offers the most productive hunting grounds.

FOOD & HUNTING

▼ Going into town The sparrowhawk often visits parks and gardens.

▼ Going into town The sparrowhawk often visits parks and gardens.

In spring, sparrowhawks form A Hard furnishings pairs and perform aerial The nest is made of displays over a territory to sticks, twigs and bark. reinforce the pair bond. The nest itself is located 20-40' above the ground, and the birds often use an old crow's nest as the foundation for the new structure.

Initially, the female incubates and broods the hatchlings while the male hunts to feed the family But as the young grow, the female is forced to hunt, bringing back larger prey to the hungry chicks.The young become independent when they are about 8 weeks old.

FOOD & HUNTING

Most of the Eurasian sparrowhawks victims are small, and include sparrows, finches and tits. Thrushes are also common prey, and the larger female can catch wood pigeons, jays and even gamebirds such as the partridge, grouse and pheasant. Both sexes take small mammals, lizards and large insects from time to time. When hunting in woodland, the hawk moves from perch to perch until it sights prey before dashing in for the kill. Its aerial skills | enable it to twist and turn rapidly as it swoops among branches and tl twigs, often concealed from view until it strikes.The bird also hunts ** - in the open, utilizing ground contours and patches of cover to approach its prey Usually it first locates its prey before flying, but the bird also makes prospecting flights or sweeps low along hedges and woodland edges and between farm buildings, hoping to flush out birds with its sudden appearance.

Having snatched a small bird in its talons, the hawk flies directly to cover There, it settles on a favorite plucking post, such as a low tree stump, and removes legs, wings and other inedible parts before eating.

CONSERVATION

Until the middle of the 20th century, the Eurasian sparrowhawk was heavily persecuted by gamekeepers, who mistakenly regarded it as a threat. In the 1950s and 1960s, the introduction of pesticides devastated sparrowhawk populations. Females began to lay eggs with thin shells; this resulted in widespread breeding failure. However, strict controls on pesticide use have enabled the bird to recolonize former haunts.

BEHAVIOR

Outside the breeding season, the sparrowhawk is a solitary bird. It keeps to a localized stretch of countryside, visiting a small number of favored hunting grounds. The species is seldom territorial, and neighboring hawks cruise the same hunting grounds — but at different times of the day to avoid competition. When not ambushing prey the bird flies high above the treetops, soaring on broad wings as it scans the countryside for flocks of small birds.

Where the sparrowhawk breeds in the far north, it migrates several thousand miles to reach wintering grounds in southern Europe, North Africa and southern Asia.

# Only about 10% of sparrowhawk hunts are successful.

# A pair of sparrowhawks must make about ten kills a day to feed chicks — which adds up to perhaps 500 birds during the entire breeding season.

# The sparrowhawk has been known to prey on its own species, and the temporary nature of the pair bond is such that, when the breeding season is over, the smaller male may well be at risk from his former mate.

• Specialist tool The bill plucks and dismembers prey.

A Bright-eyed killer The sparrowhawk hunts over 120 British species.

WINGED EXECUTIONER

• Specialist tool The bill plucks and dismembers prey.

A Bright-eyed killer The sparrowhawk hunts over 120 British species.

[1 Target sighted...

From a concealed vantage point, a sparrowhawk watches intently as a flock of sparrows flies past.

Cruise missile.

As the flock settles, the hawk sets off silently, making use of cover to screen its approach.

[1 Target sighted...

From a concealed vantage point, a sparrowhawk watches intently as a flock of sparrows flies past.

Cruise missile.

As the flock settles, the hawk sets off silently, making use of cover to screen its approach.

,3 Caught in the bath.

Bursting over a wall, the hawk surprises the house sparrows as they indulge in a dust bath.

Instant death

The victim is seized and killed with a blow from the talons. The flock scatters in confusion.

,3 Caught in the bath.

Bursting over a wall, the hawk surprises the house sparrows as they indulge in a dust bath.

Instant death

The victim is seized and killed with a blow from the talons. The flock scatters in confusion.

OFILE Eurasian Sparrowhawk

The Eurasian sparrowhawk's short, rounded wings and long tail enable it to skim over hedges and weave through dense woodland at high speed.

vital statistics

Weight

The strong, hook-tipped bill enables the sparrowhawk to dismember its prey, pulling off and discarding feathers, bones and other inedible body parts.

Eyes

The sparrowhawk's vision is extremely sharp, enabling it to detect small birds deep within a shaded wood.

Juvenile

The strong, hook-tipped bill enables the sparrowhawk to dismember its prey, pulling off and discarding feathers, bones and other inedible body parts.

Plumage & size

The two sexes look very different.The female is dark brown above and barred gray below, whereas the smaller male (right) has slate-gray upperparts and russet bars below.

CREATURE COMPARISONS

The Eurasian sparrowhawk's short, rounded wings and long tail enable it to skim over hedges and weave through dense woodland at high speed.

Weight

Eyes

The sparrowhawk's vision is extremely sharp, enabling it to detect small birds deep within a shaded wood.

Juvenile

Power Yellow Brested Bird
The bird's principal weapons are its yellow feet armed with fearsome claws. Most of its victims are killed in the moment of capture by the gripping power of the talons.

CREATURE COMPARISONS

The Eurasian sparrowhawk's counterpart in eastern and southern Africa is the rufous-breasted sparrowhawk (Accipiter rufiventris), which is larger than its European cousin. While the males of both species have similarly gray upperparts, the African bird has

uniform underparts, in contrast to the male sparrowhawk's barred markings.The rufous-breasted sparrowhawk is found in or near wooded habitats, where it relies on ambush and swift ight to catch birds that may be as large

Rufous-breasted aS a P'§eon'

sparrowhawk t Eurasian

Sparrowhawk

closely related species, such as the rufous-breasted sparrowhawk, Japanese sparrowhawk, goshawk and Cooper's hawk, all belong to the genus Accipiter. Together with other hawks, kites, harriers, buzzards, eagles and Old World vultures, they form the family Accipitridae — the largest family of birds of prey, with a total of 64 I genera and 237 species.

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