Firstly, I’d like to apologise for this post being a couple of days late, uni work has been pretty crazy. But as I am currently sitting in the lab and have a couple of hours to kill before I can start recording the results of my dissertation experiments (maybe I’ll do a post on them soon), I thought I better get writing.
Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) are incredible creatures and belong to one of my favourite groups of animals, the birds of prey. They’re a relatively small species, with the males having a wingspan of around 59-64cm (23-25 in) and the females being the larger of the sexes with wingspans of 67-80cm (26-31 in). However, this small size by no means makes them any less formidable than the larger birds of prey, and in fact, makes them brilliantly adapted to hunting in small spaces, such as dense woodland and your garden. Smaller birds pretty much make up the entirety of their diet and they will happily snatch them from a garden feeder with their incredibly sharp talons. And I was lucky enough to witness this immense spectacle!
It was actually a couple of years ago, but I was scrolling through some photographs and suddenly remembered the event and thought that it definitely warranted a blog entry. I was just chilling in my living room at home, watching some TV, when all of a sudden a grey streak when flying past the window, there was a shrill shriek, and then a bundle of grey feathers and ear piecing sound landed on the grass. The streak of grey was a stunning male sparrowhawk and the horrific sound was coming from the starling that it had in its feet! With the starling on its back, the sparrowhawk did the stereotypical bird of prey pose and covered its catch with its wings, what a sight to behold.
I shot upstairs and grabbed my camera in the hope of getting some sort of record of this fantastic event. Because of the position of starling, the sparrowhawk was unable to get its beak to its neck or spine without being at risk of being pecked, its prey was not going down without a fight. This resulted in it taking sometime to finish it off. I started to edge closer trying to get a decent picture, unfortunately it had landed in a huge patch of shadow making photographing it a real pain and I eventually pushed my luck and got a tad too close. This caused the sparrowhawk to fly over the fence with the screaming starling still in its talons and retreat under the neighbours hedge. But was it over for me… of course not! I grabbed a chair, stuck it against the fence and continued my pursuit of an acceptable picture. Poor neighbours, what must they have thought if they’d seen me peering over their fence with a camera and a large lens! But, being under the hedge line it was still an awkward place for me to get a good picture, such awful lighting.
At this point the starling is still not dead and continuing its futile attempts at escaping the clutch of the graceful garden predator that is the sparrowhawk. Until, it finally couldn’t take anymore and gave up, allowing the sparrowhawk to tuck into its well-earned lunch. By now, my garden (and most likely much of the surrounding) was completely lacking any other sign of bird life, they had all vanished, leaving the area in a tense silence as the sparrowhawk methodically plucked and consumed its bounty.
Now, some of you may be reading this thinking that it is all a bit brutal and cruel. But, I was in complete awe at what I was witnessing, the brutality of nature at its finest. After watching this kind of event so many times on a myriad of TV shows featuring a plethora of predators, to finally observe it happening first hand was just incredible. And it demonstrated perfectly the power of even a small bird of prey, they truly are immense predators and just so incredibly adapted. I’d travel miles and camp out for days just for the chance to witness a bird of prey hunting and yet it happened in my back garden whilst I was watching telly. Funny how things work.
Birds of prey really are fantastic animals, they’re formidable, intelligent, charismatic and a force to be reckoned with. This event, once again, shows that you don’t have to leave Britain to witness incredible wildlife, we have so many awe-inspiring creatures within our shores. Whilst, I was lucky in the fact that it happened in my garden, it isn’t too hard to see British birds of prey and I hope you get out there and get to witness something just as incredible. A Buzzard taking down a rabbit perhaps, or maybe a Kestrel hovering and dropping like a stone on some poor unsuspecting rodent. Because, the TV shows are great, and allow us to see some remarkable animals, but nothing quite beats seeing it first-hand.
Thank you for reading this post depicting, what is still, one of my favourite wildlife events and what a show it was. I hope you enjoyed it, feel free to give it a like if you did, and if you’d like to read more of my posts, I upload one a week on a myriad of animal related topics, so hit follow and you’ll be notified each time I upload a new post. See you next week!