A grey morning of gusting winds. Pushing the wheelbarrow back across the fields, I looked up as a cloud of twittering grey wagtails rose in alarm into the sky. High overhead, a mob of songbirds swooped and shrieked at the darting shape of a sparrow hawk diving and rising amongst them. Several small birds gave chase and this time the hawk gave way, flying in a sweep towards the far hill and off to search another place for prey.
The sparrow hawk (accipiter nisus) preys upon small birds, catching them in flight. It is said that only one in ten sparrow hawk attacks result in capture and a meal for the hunter. A female sparrow hawk can catch a bird as large as a wood pigeon, while the male will take prey no bigger than a mistle thrush. I have seen a collared dove snatched from our bird table as it fed.
The presence of sparrow hawks is seen as a good ecological indicator and a sign that local populations of songbirds are thriving. This is certainly true of our corner of the New Forest, where woodland and heathland birds exist in healthy numbers. We are also on a migration path. Flocks of songbirds feed on seeds and berries here before they fly on to the channel coast some ten miles away. A place of rich pickings for the sparrow hawks, despite one missing a meal as I watched this morning.
Photographs from Google Images.