Caught in a Sparrowhawk’s stare

I posted a picture on twitpic last weekend taken of a Sparrowhawk flying in acrobatic fashion around our feeding station. It was, as always, an exciting and spectacular visit with the shear speed and aeronautical ability of the bird in flight a joy to behold.

The Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is a surprisingly common bird, ranging in its habitat from woodland and country hedgerows to suburban parks and gardens. There are an estimated 40,000 breeding pairs in the UK, making it the second most common British bird of prey behind Kestrels. As their name suggests they feed on small birds, with the larger female capable of taking larger victims, up to the size of pigeons.
There are a few local names – blue hawk (Stirlingshire, East Lothian, West Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire); blue merlin (Perth); gleg hawk (Renfrewshire); gold tip (Yorkshire), hedge hawk; maalin (Shetland); pigeon hawk (Yorkshire); spar hawk (Scotland, Surrey); spare hawk, spur hawk, stannin hawk (Scotland, Yorkshire); stone falcon (Sussex).
Two historic references to the bird caught my eye. The first is from John Aubrey (1626-97), the widely travelled naturalist and antiquarian who is associated with the Aubrey Stones of Stonehenge, who wrote in his Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects in 1696;
“Not long before the Death of King Charles II a Sparrow-Hawk escaped from the Perch and pitched on one of the Iron Crowns of the White Tower, and entangling its string in the Crown, hung by the heels and died. Twas considered very ominous, and so it proved”
There is also a possibly apocryphal story told of Joseph Paxton’s great glass Crystal Palace built for the 1851 Great Exhibition that was supposedly plagued by sparrows. So concerned was Queen Victoria by the number of sparrows that she sent for the Duke of Wellington, possibly thinking that he would send soldiers to scare them off. Shooting them in a glass building was clearly out of the question. The Iron Duke’s response – “Sparrowhawks Ma’am”
Sources: RSPB and Fauna Britanica – Stefan Buczacki

4 Comments

  1. Nice. Love the Aubrey & Iron Duke stories. We have a number of American kestrels in NYC, including several nesting pairs. Are they similar to your Sparrowhawk?

  2. Lovely post and so interesting.. photo is beautiful. I love its almost hanging in the air!
    Was thinking about you yesterday. Went out for a quick cycle without camera.(why do we do it!!)ospreys with fish(ten a penny here),wood storks, redwing blackbirds,
    hawks,egrets,herons,coots, moorhens and a million grackles..sometimes there is a bald eagle by the lake too, all right in the middle of Orlando. next time camera!

  3. So good you were able to catch him with your camera!
    Both on saturday and on sunday last weekend, I saw a female sparrowhawk catch a wood pigeon in my garden, but of course my camera was inside!

  4. outwalkingthedog
    I've just looked up American kestrels. What gorgeously colourful birds of prey they are. From the life history on allaboutbirds.org I would say they are more like our kestrels who hover or perch looking for prey on the ground below. Sparrowhawks seem to pretty exclusively use the high-speed raid technique. Glad you like the history stuff. I love the natural history anecdotes that turn up in the literature and give you a real connection to people many years ago who loved the natural world as much as we do.

    sharp green pencil
    What a wonderful bird list – not what I would have expected to hear from Orlando, though I've never been. And all from the saddle of a bike, you lucky thing. Don't try taking pictures whilst cycling though, I fear it might end badly 🙂

    AnneTanne
    Hi Anne. I saw your post and picture showing the debris from the pigeon kill. Wonderful tones to the colours. What camera are you using? I turned my lens on some flor today whilst I was out. I shall be looking them up and then listing on inaturalist.org as I don't have your expert eye and knowledge. Absolutely loved today. Beautiful sunshine, birds singing everywhere. Truly felt like the first day of spring and everything was celebrate. I would even swear I heard the reeds growing as I sat on a silty bank hoping for kingfishers with the sun warming my neck and a buzzard calling overhead – the kingfishers were a 'no show' but a treecreeper scuttled up the trunk of a willow tree in front of me.

    Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting.

    Mark

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