Good morning Villagers,
According to our thermometer, we had a low of -3 last night, which seems tropical compared to the forecasted temperatures to come later this week. Time to get the 2nd duvet out!
After witnessing Jack Sparrowhawk catch his breakfast this morning, I thought I would make him species of the day!
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
The Eurasian sparrowhawk range spreads throughout temperate and sub-tropical areas of Europe, with birds from northern ranges migrating south in winter, and southern counterparts remaining resident or making dispersive movements.
Their diet consists mainly of small birds including sparrows, tits, finches, thrushes and starlings, but over 120 species have been recorded as prey and they more than capable of catching pigeon and woodpecker. They eat their quarry on the ground or stump, spreading their wings to form a tent and use their tail for balance. They leave nothing but feathers and bone as evidence of a kill.
Sparrowhawks will breed in suitable woodland of any type, making a nest of twigs about 60cm wide. They lay between 3-5 pale blue, brown spotted eggs which are incubated for 33 days. The chicks fledge after 24-28 days. The success of the brood is dependent on mum maintaining a high weight throughout the incubation and feeding stages. Mortality in young males is greater than in young females and average life span is 4 years
The sparrowhawk has been utilised by falconers since the 16th century but have come in to conflict with humans throughout the ages, particularly with racing pigeon owners, land owners who rear poultry and game and it has been blamed for the decrease in passerine populations. Reasearch has found no link between increasing sparrowhawk numbers and the decrease of woodland or farmland birds, and studies of racing pigeon deaths found that only 1% were taken by the Eurasian sparrowhawk.
Sparrowhawk numbers declined drastically in the 1950’s due to poisoning from insecticides introduced to farming. the poison was consumed by grain eating birds and passed to top predators such as the sparrowhawk and peregrine falcon. As a result, the egg shells were to thin to survive incubation. The sparrowhawk was also intentionally poisoned by gamekeepers and pigeon owners.
In mythology, the sparrowhawk appears from the Iron Age Teutonic mythology where it was a sacred bird in Old Bohemian songs and lived in the grove of the gods. In English history, it was believed that the cuckoo turned into a sparrowhawk in winter. The bird is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, poet Laureate Ted Hughes wrote a poem entitled ‘The Sparrow Hawk’ and Richard Francis Burton referred to the bird in his book ‘One Thousand and One Arabian Nights’.
A poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
A sparhawk proud did hold in wicked jail
Music’s sweet chorister, the Nightingale
To whom with sighs she said: ‘O set me free,
And in my song I’ll praise no bird but thee.’
The Hawk replied: ‘I will not lose my diet
To let a thousand such enjoy their quiet.’