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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Sprawk !!! - on 29th February, 2016

Since December, a male Sparrowhawk has been making a real nuisance of himself in our garden, visiting several times a day on many occasions. Fortunately he's not been a very adept hunter, although there have been a few casualties.

More recently I'd been convinced that a female of the species had been paying the occasional visit. A few times I'd see the birds in the garden suddenly vanish as a flash of brown passed by. 

On 29th February, I was sitting at my desk when I caught a flurry of activity in the corner of my eye. Yes, it was the female Sprawk, and she'd brought down a Collared Dove about 10 metres from where I was sitting! My first reaction was to try and get some photos through the glass of my window. Sadly, there were obstructions to the right of my view which prevented me from getting a decently composed shot. The bird was removing feathers from its prey with great rapidity.


Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
It's always a dilemma when such things happen - do I take the photos whilst I have the opportunity, or do I protect our garden birds by trying to frighten the predator? The answer is usually a compromise, and it was on this occasion. Having taken a few shots, I banged on the window - and it ignored me! 

I made a quick dash through the kitchen to our back door (taking my camera with me, of course!) and started to confront the Sprawk. She was in a position where I couldn't get any sensible photos, and she ignored my initial approach. She stayed her ground for a while and then retreated by about 3 metres into the corner of our garden in front of one of our hedgehog houses, taking the hapless Collared Dove with her.


Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
She stayed a while as I got closer, and then decided I was too much of a threat, and took flight, leaving the Collared Dove behind. Convinced that the Dove was stone-dead, I returned to my study. I can see from the camera data that this whole episode took approximately 45 seconds.

I'd been sitting at my desk for a few minutes when, to my amazement, I noticed that the Collared Dove was now upright, and moving its head a little. I hurried out to see if it could be saved, and as I approached it flew up into the Sambucus in our garden.

Twenty three minutes after the Sprawk had flown off, I was back in my study again and noticed its return. It made straight for the place where it had first struck the Collared Dove, not seeing that it was now in the Sambucus, maybe 6 metres away. I took a few photos but, again, I've had to crop them heavily because of the obstructions on the right hand side of the images.





Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
The Sprawk seemed most confused by the lack of Collared Dove - it must have thought that it had done enough to mortally wound it. It was then as if it had suddenly remembered taking it to the corner of the garden, as it trotted off there. Here she is, stepping towards the corner.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
She ended up searching round the Hedgehog nesting box, and then standing on top of it. Fearing for the continued safety of the Dove I again went to scare off the Sprawk, making sure I took a photo beforehand!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
Once again, the Sprawk left empty-handed, leaving the Dove in the Sambucus. 

It was maybe an hour later, with me wondering if the Dove was going to fly off or cock its clogs and fall out of the tree, when the Sprawk returned once more. She grabbed the Dove and flew down behind our back fence. I got the ladder out so I could see over the fence, but could see no trace of it so, presumably, it had flown off at low level with the Dove.

It wasn't long before normality returned to the garden, and the regular birds returned, possibly safe in the knowledge that the local killer was well sated!

Here's one from that afternoon that the Sprawk missed. In line with recent comments received, I'm just calling this 'Redpoll' and not showing the old sub-species scientific name

Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) (female) - our garden
Both male and female Sparrowhawks have visited since then, but I don't think that either of them have caught anything in our garden.

Thank you for dropping by. At this point in time I have no idea what and when my next post will be as I seem to have little up my sleeve except, perhaps, some of my garden birds so far this year.

34 comments:

  1. Incredibly nice pictures Sparrowhawk with prey! Good for observing weeks.

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  2. Hi Richard.
    We had a pair of Collard Doves both taken by a female Sparrwohawk,afew years ago,now we have two Cats,the visits have stopped,stunning captures by the way,also love your Redpoll,one of my favourite birds.
    John.

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    1. Careful, John - you'll have me thinking about getting a cat again. We certainly still miss ours.

      We've not done too badly for Redpolls this year, at least two of which have been ringed. We've had up to 8 at a time - We've had better years, however. Sightings are now thinning out a bit and we've recently had the odd day without seeing one.

      THank you for your kind words - - - Richard

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  3. These will keep me happy for a while. They are beautiful birds.

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    1. They certainly are magnificent creatures, Adrian. Best wishes - - - Richard

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  4. I think nature has to take its course Richard, if we feed the finches, tits etc then unfortunately we will also inevitably feed the predators too! I understand your dilemma though and although it was not a good ending for the dove you deffo "did your bit". Now then lets get to your images of this subjective episode, STUNNING, BRILLIANT, TOP CLASS, can't think of anything better than that to say?

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    1. I agree that nature has to take its course, Paul. Mrs P. is not so happy about the Sprawk's visits, however. I do take the attitude that if I'm increasing the occurrence of bird visits to my garden by feeding the birds, I'm going to increase the occurrence of predator visits too. Sprawks I can tolerate. Cats are another matter - even if this is at odds with my comment to John, above!

      Thank you for your very kind words about the images - much appreciated.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  5. A great write up backed up by some super photos, well done.

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  6. What a great story to follow, even though it's not so great for the Dove. Did you see my post about the Sprawk that chased a Blackbird into a kitchen? They just wont give up will they.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Fin. Yes, I did see your excellent post on the Gourmet Sprawk, thank you.

      Best wishes to you, Harley, and your mum and dad - - - Richard

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  7. The game of the prey and the predator are all part of a healthy ecosystem. This ecosystem best left on its own - and will never ever change the natures balance in favour of one or the other unless human interference is there. In such occasions best observe and let the nature run its course. That assured that the hawk will not reduce your garden birds. Great observation and good set of pictures.

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    1. Hello 'S S'. I fully agree that what I'm observing is a positive indicator for the health of the natural world. I'm conscious, however, that I'm already upsetting a natural balance by feeding the birds and attracting them to our garden. I also appreciate that this will attract predators too. I'm happy to live with that, but my wife is starting to demand otherwise!!

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed comment. Best wishes - - - Richard

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  8. WOW, that is quite a story here Richard!
    I never saw a female at my feeder since I only small passerine birds and no larger birds such a dove or a thrush.
    I choose to let things happen since feeding the passerine birds helps them enormously get through winter so if a hawk levy one once in while, I guess that species too is entitled to get a helping hand.
    After all, we do live in world where predators have to eat prey to survive, it's a pity but that is this planet's way.
    Congratulations for those great photos, it shows how much bigger a female is compared to a male.
    I wish you as great pictures for the Stonechats!!
    Warms hugs to share with Lindsay :)

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    1. I agree with your sentiments, Noushka, but I have to be sensitive to Lindsay's wishes too!

      This was the first time that I've photographed a female Sprawk at a sensible range and it's really made me appreciate just how large she is when compared to the male - she's just been back in the rain, so I could only get photos of her in dull light through the rain-spattered glass - I'm talking about the Sprawk here, not Lindsay!!!!

      My very best wishes - - - - Richard

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  9. It's a fine series of pictures, Richard, and I would stifle any feelings of guilt or regret. I think Noushka's comment above is valid. You probably do more overall good than harm by feeding, and certainly this magnificent Sparrowhawk in entitled to its survival too.

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    1. Thanks, David. I would be quite happy to leave the Sprawk to its devices (we can afford to lose a few Collared Doves - in fact I would gain, financially, if we lost a few Collared Doves!!!!), but for two things:- 1) We're having some rather interesting avian visitors at the moment, and I'd be disappointed to lose one of them to this bird, and 2) Lindsay is very insistent that we try and dissuade the Sprawk from visiting. Today Lindsay was out when the Sprawk visited - I just took photos! (I hope she doesn't read this!)

      Best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

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    2. Hi again Richard: I understand that you have to take Lindsay's views into account! However, I think the greater sin, if the Sparrowhawk does take another bird, is to scare the raptor off its prey before the prey has succumbed. The poor Collared Dove in your account above had to go through the ordeal twice.

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    3. In retrospect that's a valid point, David, but (as I clearly state in this post) when I first frightened off the Sprawk I believed the Dove to be already dead. The second time I frightened off the Sprawk, it hadn't seen the Dove and I believed that the Dove had a chance of recovery. I was trying to save it from going through the ordeal twice.

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  10. Perhaps I'm heartless but I would've let the sprawk take it's reward their strike/success rate is very low and the female especially will need to fatten up ready for long periods on a nest, which must be close to your home, still you gave the Dove a fighting chance.
    The Redpoll is delightful

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    1. It's my other half who is demanding that we try and dissuade the Sprawk from visiting, Doug, and as were having some interesting visitors (Redpoll, Siskin, Bullfinch, and L-t Tits were around when it visited) I was reasonably happy to see it off on that occasion. I'm trying to win Lindsay round to letting the Sprawks have their way, but she keeps throwing the suggestion at me that we stop feeding the birds as we're just attracting them so that they can fall victime to the Sprawks. I'm treading carefully here!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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    2. I'm wondering perhaps you might be able to make life harder for the sprawk. Do you have trellis up along your fence? If not putting it up might stop it for a while as it's so used to sneaking into the garden hugging the fence line and trees for cover any change in the height might give the birds the extra few seconds they need to evade capture. Or perhaps planting bushes etc too. The only alternative might be to swap locations of your feeders every so often.
      I didn't mean any disrespect by the way.

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    3. I'm not sure what you think you might have said that could be considered as disrespectful, Doug. Nothing strikes me that way!

      We've got 6ft fences all round, with trellis above the fence on one side, the house on the second side, and trees and shrubs on the other two sides.

      Don't tell my wife, but I'd be quite sad if the Sprawk stopped coming. It's when it starts arriving many times each day that it gets to be a bit disturbing (there was a period recently when I was seeing it four times a day on average - which probably meant it was coming about eight times a day!)

      Incidentally, and coincidentally, I moved the feeders earlier this afternoon!!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

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  11. We have seen a Sprawk here a couple of times, I only once managed photos and I have not seen it kill. Our builder a couple of years back said he saw one take a blue tit while he was having lunch on the lawn, so I guess it is not going short. Since we moved the office upstairs we only have velux skylights so I miss a lot of lawn activity now :-( They need to feed in winter as well as the little guys but it still upsets me I have to say. Keep well Diane

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    1. I'd be most upset to lose my study which overlooks the bird feeders in my garden, Diane, but I'd probably get a lot more done if I was somewhere without a view!!

      The issue of the Sprawk seems to have attracted a lot of comment - possibly more than the dog-mess issue raised in my last post.

      I'll summarise by saying that, having given consideration to all the points made, I have no wish to actively try and exclude avian predators from the garden, and would actually be upset if a Sprawk didn't visit from time to time. I will always, however, feel a little upset every time I see a bird taken - especially if it's one of our rarer visitors. Hopefully, Lindsay will learn that nature is not always pretty!

      I hope that you are keeping well. Best wishes - - Richard

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  12. Hi Richard, wonderful images of the Sprawk, good to see the images of the tale you told me. ope fully will get that close to a bird myself sometime. The bird most certainly was determined to get its lunch. Regards John

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    1. Thanks, John. I reckon it's high time you set out some of your garden as a nature reserve, with a hide in it. You'd soon get some close shots of all sorts, being in the area you're in! ;-}

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  13. Hello Richard, wow these are amazing photos of the Sprawk. Sorry I was not able to react sooner but I have been away for two weeks birding in IL.
    Regards,
    Roos

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    1. Thank you, Roos. I hope that you had a wonderful time - IL, is that Illinois (USA) or Israel? I too have been away on the Scilly Isles, and just got back this week.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  14. Magnifiques images Richard ! so much beautiful pics ! how can do to be there just at the good place and at the good time ? I'm very impress ! Thanks !
    Philfff

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Mr Philff!

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  15. It's weird saying the word "Sprawk" out loud. We have a similar bird called the "Cooper's Hawk" and once and awhile it visits our feeders for a bird. I'm okay with it. It's what they do. They can have a dove or a finch:) While it's like, "Noooooo! Not my feeder birds!!!!", I'm like, "Well....they've got to eat as well:)" Great photos. Even when the dove is dead, it still looks beautiful!

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    1. 'Sprawk' sound like an appropriate warning call to the birds to my mind, Chris.

      Best wishes, and thanks for you kind words - - - Richard

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