Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk

At a glance

The Eurasian sparrowhawk is the bird of prey most likely to visit gardens, but it is unobtrusive and can be difficult to spot. It can hunt birds in confined spaces and is known to prey on around 120 different species including thrushes, starlings, and even pigeons. It is an agile bird that flies fast and low with few wing-beats to remain hidden from its prey for as long as possible. During breeding season, the male will perform deep, undulating flight displays accompanied by high-pitched cackling.

Key facts

Scientific name: Accipiter nisus
Status: Resident breeder and passage migrant

Breeding pairs: 35,000

Wintering birds: 100,000

Conservation status: Green
Length: 28 – 39 cm
Wingspan: 60 – 75 cm
Weight: 110 – 350 g
Typical lifespan: 4 years

What do sparrow hawks look like?

Male sparrowhawks have blue-grey upperparts and white underparts that are striped with reddish-brown. They are greyer on the breast and belly. The white flight feathers have conspicuous dark grey bars.

The head is blue-grey with reddish cheeks, and the chin and upper throat are white. The hooked bill is grey with a black tip and yellow cere, the eyes are orange surrounded by a yellow eye-ring, and the legs and feet are yellow.

Female sparrowhawks are larger than the males. The upperparts are grey-brown and the underparts are white striped with grey. She does not have the reddish tinge of the male.

Juvenile sparrowhawks are similar to the female but with browner upperparts and wider stripes on the underparts than adults.

How do sparrow hawks breed?

Sparrowhawks breed in April and May and produce 1 brood a season. They are monogamous during breeding season but usually find new mates for the following season. They nest in woodlands, and coniferous and deciduous forests. Both male and female build the nest which is situated in the fork of a tree near the trunk, or on a horizontal branch. It is a platform made of loose sticks and twigs lined with smaller twigs and bark chips.

Sparrowhawks lay 2-7 smooth, glossy white or cream eggs with a bluish tint and heavy dark brown markings, which are incubated by the female alone for 32-34 days. Chicks are fed by the female with prey brought by the male. They fledge at 26-30 days but rely on their parents for food for a further 25 days, and reach sexual maturity at 1 year.

What do sparrow hawks eat?

Sparrowhawks feed on songbirds with females taking larger birds such as pigeons, thrushes and starlings while males prey on tits, buntings, sparrows and finches. They will also catch rodents, young hares and rabbits and other small mammals.

Female Sparrowhawk

Where can I see sparrow hawks ?

Sparrowhawks can be seen all year round. They breed in woodland but will venture into gardens and more open country as well as towns and cities. They can be seen across most of the UK apart from parts of the Scottish Highlands. Listen out for the alarm calls of smaller birds which can often indicate that a sparrowhawk is nearby.

What do sparrow hawks sound like?

Marc Anderson/xeno-canto

Did you know?

The colour of a sparrowhawk’s eyes changes as it ages. Young birds have greenish eyes which turn more yellow as they get older eventually becoming orange or even red.

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11 Responses

  1. Any suggestions as to why i get regular visits by male sparrow hawk to the bird feeder area, even had two sitting on the post last week, but never a female in last two years we have lived here.

  2. The Laws of Nature don’t seem to apply to Humans, What about the survival of the fittest being applied to us?

  3. Saw a beautiful male having breakfast this morning sitting on our bbq. I’ve seen them flying before in the field but never in the garden it was amazing.

  4. Had one take a pigeon in the garden yesterday, quite an awesome sight ! It’s been around for some time now but until yesterday we’d never seen it make a kill, the pigeons are a nuisance and if it keeps them in check then that’s fine, anyway this is how nature works.

  5. We have suddenly had what seems too be a young female Sparrowhawk terrorising the young birds in the Colby Lane area of Appleby in Westmorland.
    She was seen devouring a starling and then finishing off with the blackbird. She has now started sitting on a neighbours cage where she feeds her little wild birds.

    Is there any way this lovely bird could be captured and rehomed.

    1. The short answer is no. Why would you want it captured? It’s not terrorising other birds, it’s survival. It’s what happens in nature. Other bird species hunt and feed on birds. Everything in nature has a place. We feed wild birds and love to watch them all and we have a sparrowhawk visiting our garden. I feel honoured that we get to see this beautiful bird. Raptors were persecuted to the point of extinction in this country. ALL of nature needs our help and protection. Accept it as part of life and leave well alone.

  6. Sitting here eating a late lunch and a female sparrow hawk landed on the fencing right next to me ! Amazing . From the bits that I have read since , I think it was a young female ❗️

  7. Saw one I thnk in my garden the other day. I have lots of birds visit my bird feeders and bird table so not sure if I want it to come back. But everyone has to eat I suppose!

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