February 26, 2024

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Seasonal post this one.

At this time of year the local Sparrowhawks make the most of the glut of inexperienced and deliciously nutritious recent fledgelings. I’ve never understood why people get upset about having these exquisite predators visit their gardens. They’re usually about as close as we get to genuine tip predators, those highly evolved specialists who sit at the top of the food chain, sharing their evolutionary niche with Polar Bears, Great White Sharks and Lions. Complaining that they take birds from a busy bird table is a bit like getting uptight about Orcas eating Sea Lions from a busy beach. Species necessarily coexist and the presence of predators in an ecosystem indicates that it’s healthy. If there aren’t enough resources lower down the food chain to feed everything else, then there won’t be anything to support those predators at the top.

Twice this week, I’ve seen a female Sparrowhawk like the one in the photo below, catching birds in the garden. In all likelihood it’s this same female that I photographed a few years ago or at least a close relative, because they’re pretty short lived, the average lifespan being just 2.7 years.

Early on Tuesday morning I raised the bedroom blind and thought that although the weather had indeed taken an intemperate Autumnal turn, I definitely wasn’t expecting snow just yet. Large, fat, floaty flakes too. Then I noticed the alarm calls from the birds in the yew tree.

Trying to loop the blind cord round the stubby stanchion thingy, requires delicate figure of eight finesse, especially when trying to prevent a toddler getting tangled up in it. Eagerly scanning the garden for an anticipated raptor encounter hampers this. Eventually, and with the cord in a terrible mess, I spot the hawk. She’s on the lawn, covering her prey with self consciously flexed wings like a child afraid that someone’s going to copy her exam answers. All the while a sizable tree brimming with thrushes, finches and tits is venting their collective spleen, so pretty quickly she tires of the attention.

A forward lean and full smooth wing extension turns a crouch into an upward swoop.
Flight feathers flick dew from the wet grass, once, twice, three times.
The dead finch’s head metronomes each off beat, then she’s gone.