Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

The Sparrow Hawk is one of the most common UK birds of prey with around 40,000 breeding pairs. The species was much more common until a sharp decline in the 1950s due to poison entering the food chain due to pesticides used to protect grain which was then eaten by grain-eating birds who were then eaten by Sparrow hawks. In recent years the Sparrow Hawk population has largely recovered.

The male birds have a slate grey back with a white belly marked by orange/ brown bars. Female birds are larger with brown back feathers, dark bars on the belly and a white stripe over the eye, unlike other common UK birds of prey they do not hover.

Sparrow Hawks are woodland birds and build nest in lower parts of the tree canopy, these nests are cup shaped but sturdy and often lined with bits of bark. The breeding season is timed so that the young hawks will have plenty of young small birds to eat. Up to half a dozen eggs are laid during May and have over 2 days around 33 days later, as a survival adaptation the chicks are different sizes so if food is short the smallest chick dies. The female cares for the chicks while the male bird provides food for the mother and her young. The parents continue to feed the young for up to a month after fledging so that the young have time to learn to hunt.


Sparrow Hawks are excellent bird hunters whose territory normally covers about 2km for a breeding pair although if food is plentiful this can be as small as ½ km. The larger female bird can take prey up to the size of a wood pigeon but the male is limited to much smaller prey. They are not picky and have been know to eat over 100 different prey species often eating whatever species is most easily available targeting those animals that are injured or weak therefore they serve an important function in strengthening the song bird population by killing off the animals which would probably have died from natural causes.  As mentioned earlier during the breeding season their prey is made up largely of young birds and these can represent nearly half of their diet at this time.  They will vary hunting style depending on prey but are not hoverers and not built for long chases so are mainly ambush hunters capable of bursts of speed up to 50 kph. Once making their final attack run they are easily spotted so on average only 1 in 10 attacks on small birds is successful.

Threats and Population

As mentioned earlier the Sparrow Hawk population has recovered well after the poison induced decline in the 1950s, they can be seen  all over the UK in woodlands, parks and gardens but are absent from the Scottish Highlands and the Shetlands.