07 October 2020 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Birds
Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

By Charlotte Owen

WildCall Officer

Feeding the birds is a great thing to do and lots of us love to do it, putting out a selection of seeds and nuts to encourage garden favourites. But not all our feathered friends eat seeds, and sometimes it’s a bird-eat-bird world.

Viewed by some as the bane of the bird table, the Sparrowhawk is a specialist bird hunter.  All the small birds we encourage in our gardens, whose populations are bolstered by supplementary feeding, in turn provide food for the ultimate back garden bird of prey.

Sparrowhawks are ambush predators, relying on the element of surprise. They are experts at appearing out of nowhere for a sudden attack, breaking cover with explosive acceleration in an attempt to snatch a surprised snack. Blink and you’ll miss it – but studies show that only one in ten hunts is successful. Their long, yellow talons extend their reach, helping them grasp their target, but should they miss they are swift and agile enough to pursue their quarry through the shrubbery, between branches and over fences. They are adapted to hunt in woodland, breezing through twisting tree limbs and folding in their wings to zip through the tiniest of gaps in a high stakes, high speed chase. Leafy gardens can be ideal hunting grounds for this apex predator, and if you’re lucky enough to see one it’s a positive sign that your local bird populations are thriving. It can be upsetting to witness a successful hunt but it’s all part of the natural food web, and Sparrowhawks rarely put much of a dent in their much more numerous prey populations.

Males are smaller than females, so they focus on smaller birds like sparrows, tits and finches. His adult plumage is distinctly different too, being slate grey above in contrast to the female’s brown, with an orange flush to his barred chest. Females are 25% bigger and twice the weight of males, trading agility for the power to tackle larger prey like doves, pigeons and magpies. Both sexes have piercing yellow eyes and really are a sight to behold – a taste of the wild in suburban Sussex.


  • Eileen Hurdle:

    08 Oct 2020 11:03:00

    We watched a sparrow hawk in our garden, plucking then eating a pigeon. He was disturbed and flew off, carrying the pigeon.

  • Isabella Chatterjee:

    08 Oct 2020 11:03:00

    Would they be able to catch and eat small quail in a yard with bushes in part of it?

    Ultimately the Sparrowhawk is an aerial ambush predator. Though they largely concentrate on catching smaller perching birds (larger in the case of the bulkier females), they'll often take opportunities to pounce on ground-dwelling prey, whether that be garden birds or rodents.
  • Sandra Henney:

    08 Oct 2020 11:09:00

    Thanks for the article on the sparrowhawks. We have seen them close to our feeder several times. Sad as it may be,it is heartening to see one even if it does take another bird,knowing it means we are helping the small bird population to thrive by putting out food

  • Annie Rimington:

    08 Oct 2020 12:36:00

    Last week I watched a Sparrow hawk grab one of the family of very noisy sparrows that have moved into our back garden.
    Amazing! Came out of nowhere, just a puff of feathers, the tail spread and the sparrows going completely silent!

  • caroline brent:

    08 Oct 2020 12:38:00

    We are visited by both male and female and they have regular posts they use to take their prey.

  • Toby Coulson:

    08 Oct 2020 12:55:00

    Beautiful birds.

  • Scott Woodward:

    08 Oct 2020 15:58:00

    I saw one yesterday hovering above our garden looking for prey, it was chased off by a magpie…amazing to watch

  • Elaine Evans:

    08 Oct 2020 16:27:00

    Once I was at Partridge Green and a thrush flew under a parked car to escape a sparrowhawk. Within seconds the sparrowhawk followed it and seconds later emerged with the thrush in its grasp. I was sorry because I love thrushes. I shouted and waved but to no avail. Very sorry.

  • Mark Raven:

    10 Oct 2020 07:38:00

    Sparrowhawks are magnificent

  • Brian Ingram:

    10 Oct 2020 16:09:00

    We have seen a marked increase in sparrowhawk visits to our garden recently. We watched a male eat almost every bit of a pideon, and woke up this morning to telltale signs of another pigeon meal. Do they hover? I saw a bird hovering in a field in Burgess Hill. It was chased off by a crow at least twice, and kept coming back to the same spot, eventually it was chased off by another “hovering” bird.

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