Living in a village in rural Norfolk there’s always plenty of birds in our wildlife friendly garden. During the summer we often caught a glimpse of a Sparrowhawk flying over the gardens. Obviously on the look out for its next meal. On one occasion we had the opportunity to capture an image of a one feeding on a kill in the garden. Yesterday, whilst checking out the bird feeders, the air above the garden suddenly exploded in a shower of feathers. One of the Sparrowhawks had returned and taken out one of the many collared doves that the feeders attract.
To my surprise this hawk seemed to totally ignore me letting me get some close images. It was only when our neighbors came out that it flew off. Although its difficult sometimes to watch wildlife in the raw. I think that having a hawk in the area and visiting the garden indicates that the bird population is doing well and is to be celebrated.
When we first moved to this part of East Anglia seeing a Sparrowhawk, let alone in the garden, was a rare occurrence. The species had been virtually wiped out in Eastern England in the 1960’s. Partly due to persecution and the use of pesticides.Today it’s not only one of the most widespread raptors in Britain, but has obviously made a welcome return to this area of Norfolk.
Over 100 species of birds have been recorded as prey items of Sparrowhawks, ranging in size from Goldcrests to Pheasants. Our birds seem to target the every increasing population of Collared Doves. Many of their victims being plucked from the air and eaten while still alive.
We seem to see the birds more in spring possibly when they are feeding young. Or it might be the case that we are out in the garden more often. Female sparrowhawks are about twice the weight of males and are about 25% larger. The extra size and weight of the female allows her to build up the reserves needed for breeding. However, it does mean she is a less agile hunter than the male which could account for the times we see her hunting over the gardens due to a lower kill rate.
These hawks rely very much on the element of surprise and often follow a regular route. Here it means them using the gaps between the houses and a hedge that borders the end of the garden as their cover. As there are now a number of gardens with popular bird feeding stations, they seem to becoming regular visitors. This could account for the number of times we come home to piles of scattered feathers in the garden.
From the brownish-grey upper parts and more prominent white line above the eye our bird was either a female or juvenile. Further reading suggested that the colour of a sparrowhawk’s eye often depends on its age and sex. Juvenile birds having greenish-yellow eyes which in the first few years become brighter yellow. From the images it would appear that this particular bird’s eyes are very yellow suggesting that it’s the female.
It’s often thought that if you have sparrowhawk in the gardens they are controlling the numbers of prey species. Where it’s probably more a case of its the numbers of prey that are controlling the population of hawks. This is heartening as it suggests that our bird population is in a healthy condition. Also it’s hopefully ensuring that our local bird population stays in a healthy state as the hawks should be weeding out the sick and unwary.