The Eurasian sparrowhawk is the bird of prey most likely to visit gardens, but they are unobtrusive and can be difficult to spot. They can hunt birds in confined spaces and are known to prey on around 120 different species of birds including thrushes, starlings, and even pigeons.
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 – 4675cm
Weight: 110 – 350 g
Sparrowhawks are relatively small birds of prey which can be quite difficult to spot. 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.
Male sparrowhawks’ heads are blue-grey with reddish cheeks and the chin and upperthroat are white. The bill is hooked and is grey with a black tip and yellow cere. Sparrowhawks’ eyes are orange surrounded by a yellow eye ring and legs and feet are yellow.
Female sparrowhawks are larger than the males. The upperparts are grey-brown and 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.
Sparrowhawks nest in woodland. Both male and female build the nest in a fork of a tree. It is a platform made of sticks and twigs with little or no additional vegetation.
Sparrowhawks lay 2-7 white eggs that are smooth and glossy and have a bluish tint and dark brown markings. The female incubates the eggs for 32-34 days. Upon hatching the chicks are fed by the female with prey brought by the male. They fledge at 26-30 days but are fed for a further 25 days. Sparrowhawks reach sexual maturity between 1 and 3 years.
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.
Where to see them
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.
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.