SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter nisus)

Epervier d'Europe

 

The Sparrowhawk is a small bird of prey that can be found throughout Switzerland, mainly in the valleys and low areas but can occur up to 2000m. It is a bird eating bird and as the name suggests is the terror of smaller species which it takes in dashing chases. It will frequently lay ambush to these smaller birds and seems to plan its attacks: it will watch out for a feeding flock  or regular feeding station then approach with low-level flight sneaking around trees and bushes before bursting in on a flock at close quarters. I used to have a winter feeding table quite close to a 2m stone wall and a Sparrowhawk would frequently fly at low level up the road outside before finally swinging over the wall right on top of whatever was on my bird table - and it would score most times ! The wings are relatively short for its size whilst the tail is quite long, both are thought to be adaptations to maneuvering around trees and bushes during a chase.

Whilst it can take birds as large as a Wood Pigeon as its staple, is more likely to be sparrows or tits, flocks of finches and the occasional thrush. When it is scanning an area for a possible victim a Sparrowhawk has a characteristic flight pattern where it will often fly in spirals or circles with a flap-flap-glide pattern to its flight, at this point the short blunt-ended wings and long tail are apparent. Both this open flight and the mad-cap dash at the end of the hunt are the two ways this bird becomes most obvious to us.

They are generally not known to be very vocal but near the nest, or a pair in the breeding season, will communicate by sound. I made these recordings in August in Normandy, at the fringe of a woodland and heard a pair in the distance calling, they then came close and circled over my head and I could record them through the tree canopy until a passing aircraft interrupted the scene:

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Luckily they were not deterred by the plane and continued to circle around, occasionally one making mock charges at the other, although it was hard to see properly due to the leaf cover it seemed to me that the cries were coming from both and since (as in many birds of prey) the female is considerably bigger than the male I was pretty sure this was a pair:

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Strange as it may seem there is a high resemblance between the shape and plumage of the Cuckoo and the Sparrowhawk. Recent research suggests that this is not just limited to human perception and that the barring on the Cuckoo may cause small birds to stay away to some extent, hence making it easier for the Cuckoo to lay its eggs in their nest without interference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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