Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

The sparrowhawk is abundant throughout Scotland, but they possess a speed and stealth that makes them difficult to spot. As one of our smallest birds of prey they are agile and can change direction quickly, making them excellent hunters. The eyes of the sparrowhawk are its most striking feature. In juvenile birds the eyes are greenish yellow but as they mature the eye become bright yellow, almost neon. The sparrowhawk has a small body with long wings, tail, legs and talons. It is these long legs and talons that make them adept at catching their prey in dense grassland or forest. Males have dark grey feathers on their back with reddish brown markings underneath and females are brown on the top part of their top with white markings underneath. Both males and females also have a white line of feathers along their eye line.


It can be very difficult to catch sight of a sparrowhawk due to their speedy flight and secretive nature. However, sparrowhawks are known for using this stealth and speed to catch their prey before it has time to react. Small songbirds are the main source of food for sparrowhawks, but some larger females have also been known to hunt woodpigeons. During the mating season in spring, male sparrowhawks will participate in mating displays over woodlands. A good way to know if there is sparrowhawks in the area is to listen for the alarm calls of smaller birds occurring during these displays.


  • Length: 28-40cm
  • Wingspan: 55-70cm
  • Weight: 100-350g (females are larger than males)


The sparrowhawk was given a green classification in 2015 under the red list for birds: the birds of conversation concern 4.


Widespread but less common in the North of Scotland.

Sparrowhawks can be found across several different habitats, although they usually prefer woodland. Populations have also been noted in lowland farmland as well as urban areas. Generally, the higher the elevation the sparser the sparrowhawk populations become. Morning and evenings are a good time to catch sight of the sparrowhawk hunting.

When to see



  • Sparrowhawks have the biggest size difference between male and females of any bird. Females can be 25% larger than their male counterparts.

Common name


Species name

Accipiter nisus

IUCN Red List status

Least concern

When to see in Scotland


Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as Rahoy hills or Bemersyde Moss

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