Sparrowhawk with its talons round a blackbird

A few minutes ago I was just going to walk through the gate when I heard a ‘squealing’, a rush of wings and also branches moving

Then, actually at my feet, landed a sparrowhawk with its talons round a blackbird.   I was so shocked to see the death throes of a blackbird just where I was standing.

I had never been so close to a sparrowhawk.  I was looking down on it and at the blackbird that was caught up in the Sparrowhawk’s  talons.

The blackbird was ‘squealing, struggling’ and trying to get away but there was no chance. 

The sparrowhawk  did not have it’s  it’s wings outstretched and had the blackbird  ‘pinned’ to the ground with it’s talons round the blackbird. 

 

Sparrowhawk - a bird of prey

Sparrowhawk - a bird of prey

I did not take the photograph of the sparrowhawk 

Blackbird – a garden bird

blackbird

I moved slightly and  the sparrowhawk suddenly let go of the blackbird.  It flew upwards and into the hedge – it must just have seen me.  

I think up until then the sparrowhawk was oblivious to me.

The blackbird, leaving behind a lot of feathers, ran and hopped into the base of the hedge and disappeared.

I shouted and shook the hedge, trying to frighten the sparrowhawk away. Then I realised I might frighten the blackbird out into the open, making it easy prey for the sparrowhawk.

The hedge was a laurel hedge.  A laurel hedge will not keep out  sparrowhawks because it does not have thorns to keep the sparrowhawk out.  Sparrowhawks cannot take the chance of damaging their feathers on thorns so they never go into bramble bushes etc .

There was nothing I could do.  For a moment I became involved with  nature and wildlife which we don’t seem to have any control over. 

What else goes on in my garden that I’m not aware of.  Who does the garden belong to – me or the birds.

33 thoughts on “Sparrowhawk with its talons round a blackbird

  1. John

    A part of nature but still not a nice thing to witness. Twice last year a Sparrowhawk made a kill in my garden. Once a sparrow which it flew away with when it saw me. The other was a collared dove which it took under a hedge when it spotted me.

  2. trish Post author

    Hi John, Good to hear from you. Hope your own blog is going well. I know the photos will be brilliant.

    I know it’s nature, but I wonder how many sparrowhawks there are near here.

    I had always thought of the laurel hedge as a refuge for the garden birds. They nest in it, perch in it and use it as a roost in winter. Now I wonder how many times the sparrowhawk has taken a meal from this hedge. But as you say it is a part of nature. Trisha

  3. Reg

    I live in Wiltshire countryside and had never known a sparrowhawk take a blackbird until just now.I have a fairly small garden and was very surprised to see a hawk chasing a blackbird,luckily the blackbird escaped into some bushes.

  4. Trish Post author

    Hi, Thank you for telling us about this. A sparrowhawk in a small garden. I have heard of that in York. Where a sparrowhawk decimated the sparrows in the garden.

    I’m glad the blackbird escaped. I wonder if sparrowhawks have realised there is more meat on a blackbird than a sparrow.

  5. Hayley Dredge

    Hi, I have just watched a Sparrowhawk kill a blackbird in our small garden in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. The other blackbirds tried to help by attacking the sparrowhawk but to no avail. This went on for about 5 mins before it flew away with the blackbird in its talons.

  6. Trish Post author

    How amazing! How amazing that other blackbirds birds tried to help this blackbird that was in trouble.

    It is a case of bird killing bird again. It’s not all nice and friendly out there is it?

    Fancy the blackbirds struggling for 5 minutes to save the blackie. You would think they would be frightened of the sparrowhawk and hide away so the sparrowhawk would not come after them.

    There must be a friendly blackbird community out there that we aren’t aware of. Like the poem The Darkling Thrush where it says something like – the thrush knew of something that we were not aware of.

    I will take more notice of the blackbirds in my garden. It seems to me that because of what your blackbirds did it must mean every blackie is capable of feelings, or else they would not have risked their lives to save another life.

    If this is so then they must have feelings if their young die in the nest, or if there is a shortage of food and they go hungry.

    Thanks for telling me about this. I find it amazing.

  7. W PERRYMAN

    Yes, I saw, or rather, heard a whoosh and a crash as ‘something’ landed in the small apple tree near some tall, mature trees; then two or three small squeaks then nothing. Then I remembered what I actually saw, which was the pleated fan of feathers of the tail of the bird (the sparrowhawk). The sqeaks were probably from the prey, a blackbird. It’s cruel, but nature has no conscience. there’s no MacDonalds out there for the hungry! It’s the survival of the fittest! A brilliant display of feathers and an event which not everyone is priviledged to see.

  8. Trish Post author

    Thanks for sending this. Bird eating bird again. I’ll write more later. Got to go and feed the birds now! They are lining up at the feeders. Cheers. Trisha

  9. Shell

    It’s all very sad and even though it is nature it’s very unpleasant to see. We’ve got a garden full of lovely birds but now a Sparrowhawk is on the prowl!

    I did witness about 15 swallows chasing the Sparrowhawk in the sky. They all flew together making their alarm call and were taking it in turns swooping at the bird of prey. It seemed to have done the trick as the big bird quickly flew away. Unfortunately, there is another one turn up this year!

  10. Trish Post author

    What a wonderful thing to see – swallows chasing a sparrowhawk away. I bet you are the only person who has seen that. I bet a Nature Programme would be interested in that.

    A good way to protect garden birds is to plant spiky bushes or hedges – like a hawthorn. Sparrowhawks wont’t go inside. We have a lovely laurel hedge that is evergreen and gives shelter to birds all year long – but it is not sparrowhawk proof!
    Thanks for getting in touch. Nice to hear from you. Trisha

  11. Christian

    We had a hawk swoop down and knock a crow right out of the huge tall tree in our back yard, suddenly the alarm was sounded by 30 or 40 other birds. Quite dramatic for a quiet summer day. My wife was about to cry. Hawks have to eat just like all of God’s other creatures.

  12. mehrdad

    it’s amazing that so many people like birds, but not sparrowhawks!!! they are birds to, and amazing ones, and since i have worked all my life with birds, and studied hawks, I can tell you that they play an importent part in the ecosystem, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. god/nature created the birds, and also the hawk for a purpose, and we are not the ones to judge or interfere. i can asure you it is a highly natural and expected death for the samll birds to die by a hawk, but to get hit by a car, shot, poisoned or overfedd to death is a humilating one. what you did, trying to scare the hawk away is not nice, how can you want to save one and kill the other?? respect and love nature, as a entire system, not just the part that is cute and accpetable for your personal gain in feelings….

  13. Shell

    I just wish life was fairer on the smaller birds. Now, if it was a cat prowling around and attacking a Sparrowhawk are you saying we should just let nature take its course? It’s natural for cats to hunt birds and other small animals as they are also natural born hunters but it isn’t nice to see anything being killed.

    A Sparrowhawk hunts to survive but when it visits someone’s garden and feeds off the birds time and again, day in day out how can that make a bird lover feel? How many birds does a SH eat in a day? If they eat several then that’s several garden birds down, over a space of a week we are probably talking in our tens or even twenties, or more.

    I have seen other animals attacked by big birds and then left half eaten, even if that.

    I heard a SH kill a Starling and it was the most horrendous sound, the frightening cries of the Starling and its desperation to get away so you can’t blame people feeling sad about losing smaller birds.

    We have also had a Buzzard visit and it was by no means as persistent as the SH. I think the Buzzard might have took over the territory of the SH because it has not been here for a while. The Buzzard did not stop by and goes hunting elsewhere.

  14. Pingback: SPARROWHAWKS AND THEIR PREY | Bird Table News

  15. mehrdad

    to clear som things out, You dont want to know the impact we humans have on unnececery bird death, and nothing can even compare to that in natur, and it is not for food, just to maintain our lyxius life. it is natural that the starling you saw made horrendous sounds, it fighted for survival, and all animals have that sound when the life is on the edge, even so the piggs we slaughter and eat, they have even worse sound. if a scottish wildcat takes a sparrowhawk, it is natural nemesis to the SH, but they are rare: but when it comes to domestic cats, they do a lot damage on all bird populations, but dont efect the SH so much. you dont need to worry that the SH would eat more than it needs; nature is not stupid and nothing is made without purpose, all is in harmoniy. they dont eat more than a small bird in two days, and with a blackbird they dont need to eat for a couple of days. the buzzard and the SH do share teritory, becuse they eat and hunt very diffrently. when bigger birds leave some of their prey, it is becuse the either get scared away or could not eat more for the moemnt, but they come back and in nature nothing goes to waist. the thing is we can not applie human values and feelings on nature, there is no evil in nature, there is no bad, and pain and suffering is also altogher experienced diffrent by nature. the thing we need to accept is that the way of life is as it is created, and we have lost the true feeling for our environment, but we are not god or the cretionist of this great spectacle, we are a part of it. and if you had like me since an early age been in the small natural habits left, and wached observed and studied the coplexity of life, you would see the beuty in all of it, not just the parts that we can reflect to from our daily life, and values. if you love birds, how can you not love the SH, it is a bird, and if you knew more about how it lives you would be amazed. let nature have it’s course, and remember(what the small birds know very well but we have lost) we are all borne to die, life comes with death.

  16. Shell

    Sparrowhawks obviously need to hunt to survive, I was just saying life can be unkind to more defenseless animals whether nature intended it or not.

    If you read the article about the 75 Starlings crash landing someone suggested they were being chased by a bird of prey, possibly a Sparrowhawk. What a waste of life if that did truly happen, not just one Starling being caught but 75 losing their lives.

    If it had been Swallows being stalked I assume they would have all chased the SH away, like I mentioned in a comment a few months ago where I witnessed around 15 Swallows chasing one off. Swallows are very powerful flyers and can swoop at magnificent speed. I have also seen the same kind of thing where a SH was hovering over a Swallow’s nest and the adults began swooping on the predator.

    Another thing I find very sad is seeing the beautiful Skylarks being hunted by the SH when they are in the grassland. There was a video clip that I watched about a Skylark being chased by a bird of prey and the Skylark was still singing in the sky and thankfully got away.

    It may be nature but it can be saddening to watch especially if a smaller bird(s) has been visiting a garden for quite sometime.

    People basically do not want to see all the birds being attacked in their garden by a predator who will return several times a day, or even stay close by and constantly watch. I have witnessed it.

    As I said before we had a Buzzard visit and when it saw me walk in the garden if flew off and did not return, so it did not seem so aggressive hunting around the garden, unlike the SH.

  17. Trish Post author

    This is a very interesting conversation – It is really interesting to see both points of view side by side. I have copied some of your comments and made them into an article yesterday – here is the link

    http://birdtablenews.com/2010/03/sparrowhawks-and-their-prey/

    I must admit that i do think sparrowhawks cause a problem for garden birds. This is because of things I have seen and because of things I have been told.

    I do understand that nature is wild and the law of survival rules. But when there are more predators taking garden birds something is wrong.

    I am putting bird food out to help the garden birds build up numbers and survive. The RSPB agree this is a good thing to do. I do not want to put bird food out so that a larger number of sparrowhawks can take advantage of these birds. Yet I can see the point of view that nature is nature and we are only bystanders . Trisha

  18. mehrdad

    I saw the article, nfortunatly it shows hom unfamiliar and ignorant people are of the nature.
    SH dont give full chase and dont hunt upp in open air, it is very rare since they are not made for this, but falcons are. the SH usualy hunts stalking and surprising close to the ground.
    it is sad that life pases, like the 75 starlings, but as i said, we are all born to die, and it is natural. now as to the 75 starlings. Something similiar happend here in southern sweden, after a while the only understadble reason was an power cable a bit from there that likly disturbed the birds navigations. we are disturbing nature in so many ways and kill so much life in waste for our relaxing lyxuis wayof leaving.

    do you know how many birds die of trafic and poision everyday?? just on one week in sweden it dies more birds in trafic than several SH consume during their life!

    in england and some other parts of the world there have been some fast increase of SH and some falcons, this is becuse of the regulations made for pecticides(wich ofcourse killed a lot of small birds as well) and more understanding for the birds which have led to less killing of them by man. but it is still not back to how many there used to be. and sometimes when a population is getting back it takes a while before stabilizing.

    I asure you that nature has it’s way that is beyond understanding for, we just get fragments of it, let it have it’s course…..you see when you feed the birds, just see it as you feed also another(SH). when it comes to the swifts and swallos and the SH, all birds are borne with good adaptation to the life they are supposed to live and have good warning systems and are able to outfly our outwith their chaser, I guess you never encountered a SH alone and attacked by titmouses or blackbirds(i saw one yesterday) they are not nice, they actually call up more and more smallbirds and hack it and chase it away. you see in nature there are no predators that dont gett “paid” back from their prey, and no prey that is totaly hlepless, that is not how nature/life works, all is there for a reason, for this reasons.

    I think it is great that you feed the small birds, why cant you take under your wings to love and feel that you contribute in feeding another of natures childs?? this winter i have been studying sparrowhawks that overwintered here in a forest close by, imagine out of 21 how many are alive now?? one, a old female, of the rest a couble were poisoned, a great owl(eagle owl) caught some, a goshawk male some others; but most of them died of starvation.

    love life and all parts of it, even the parts you dont understand, we are not meant to understand all, but nature knows it’s own will, respect that, and so respect life. hope someday you can see the wonderfull creator that also the SH is, and that you see clearly that values as cruel, bad and evil don’t exist in nature, just in human life and human world, nature IS…..

  19. Shell

    I have seen a SH give chase to a Green Finch. They will chase if they think they can catch something. More times I have seen them perch and watch and then swoop but on occasions I have seen them give chase.

    I don’t know what to make about what happened to the Starlings but it sounds very strange. I thought birds are usually resistant to power cables since they will perch on them.

    I don’t see feeding the garden birds as feeding a SH because I temporarily stopped feeding the small birds when the SH was around and then resumed when it went elsewhere.

    You can look at each side of the argument but people generally want to maintain numbers of songbirds. The Buzzard hunts but I haven’t been too bothered about it since it hasn’t really bothered my garden birds. And sure the Buzzard needs to eat too.

    Thanks for the blog Trish, it’s really interesting.

  20. Trish Post author

    Hi Mehr, Good to hear from you again. It is true we are all born to die – and it is natural. Amazing that the same thing has happened in Sweden with a lot of birds being killed. I hope it is only going to be a rare occurance – cables are everywhere aren’t they?
    In Sweden just on one week more birds in trafic than several SH consume during their life! Wow! That is something to think about.

    You say things so well. We cannot understand all of nature as we only see fragments of it.
    You have been studying sparrowhawks all winter in Sweden? Eagles eat sparrowhawks, most of them starved – that is really interesting.

    Nature does work, but humans do intervene in nature and that is when things get tricky. Here in England sparrowhawks seem to be on the increase and there is no doubt that they do eat garden birds. I don’t think any sparrowhawk in England would die of starvation, but i am not an expert and could be wrong.

    Will ponder on what you have said. Thanks again for taking the time to share this with us. Trisha

  21. Shell

    It was a RSPCA animal welfare office who suggested the 75 starlings were chased by a possible Sparrow Hawk. I would have thought due to extensive training the officer would have a clue whether the birds had flew into a power cable so may be her suggestion was right.

  22. Trish Post author

    The mystery deepens. I would agree that an RSPCA inspector is very knowledgeable and would know the cause of these bird deaths.

    Reading through again I don’t think Mehr said that the birds flew into a power cable I think she said they were disturbed by one.

    Thinking about it I am not sure what that exactly means. Does it mean that something in the power cable disturbed their navigation system and they could not navigate any more . Did it mean that they flew into a cable. I wonder what proof there is.

    I just hope it doesn’t happen again and that this is just a one off.

    There could be one reason for what happened in Sweden and a different one for here in England. I wonder if we will ever know. precisely. I wish we knew. Trisha

  23. Shell

    That’s the thing isn’t it? However, I would have thought the RSPCA would be quite knowledgeable about these kind of things. If that was the likely cause wouldn’t it have crossed their minds?

    I watched thousands of Starlings on Spring Watch a few years ago – you may have seen it – when they all were settling to roost for the night. They all landed together without a hitch, it seems.

    Maybe the ones that crash landed were following a leading bird or they were panicking. We were out the other day in the car and saw a few Starlings panicking trying to get away from a SH in a field. They flew right across the road and dived into a hedge, only there was another SH not far from that as well.

    They seemed very panicked and it looked strange seeing a Starling looking so alarmed so I am wondering about the news story theory.

  24. Trish Post author

    HiShell, I agree that RSPCA inspectors are very knowledgeable. I take it for granted that starlings fly together in perfect symnetary and then land with such organisation. That is why it is so strange about these other starlings crash landing.

    I think your suggestion that they were following a leading bird is a really sensible one. Then if the lead bird or another panicked it would cause such confusion. It would be like aeroplanes losing their radar. You described frightened fleeing birds really well. I think here in England that a sparrowhawk is the most likely answer. But we will never know, but your comments have made it more understandable. When I first heard about the starlings falling to the ground and dying it seemed very strange, but in context of a birds life and its connection with other birds and trying to flee from danger it makes more sense. Does that make sense!

    They seemed very panicked and it looked strange seeing a Starling looking so alarmed so I am wondering about the news story theory.

  25. mehrdad

    it is not known to science how birds organize in flight, when it comes to some lager birds they have an temporery leader, but they change, since the one in the front have to labour a lot. small birds dont have leaders, before people thought that, from human logic it made sense, but we have to remember that our logic is very small compared to lifes, but now we know that we dont know. nobody knows how they find from one place flying by night to another far away, but some kind of magnetic field reading is today supossed. birds like starlings dont have leaders but they syncronize so amazingly and the only explenation science have is that they “feel” eachothers movements. and people, if you want to worry about something, dont worry about how life and nature does, it has always done it long before we were here, worry about what your living is doing to the environment and extinction of species allover the planet, SH for exemple 30 years ago……….in nature animals only kill for living, we are killing, to extinction, just for lyxius living. let natur be alone if you can not love all of it….

  26. Chris

    Hi,
    My wife and I have been watching a Blackbird nest for the past month or so, the female laid two eggs in the nest which is in a Wisteria growing up our garden shed, the nest is only about four feet off the ground. The eggs hatched after 10 days or so, and we have had a great deal of pleasure watching the parent birds going in and out feeding their young. Just yesterday, we discovered that one off the babies had left the nest and was found under one of our hedges close to the fence panels. It was being visited by the parent birds regularly. Now, all of a sudden we are being pestered by a Sparrowhawk who is obviously after a quick meal. Both, myself and my wife have spent the whole day standing guard and trying to scare the hawk away when ever it appears. I love birds of prey normally, and feel very privileged to have one visit our garden, but we have formed a special relationship with our family of Blackbirds and would hate to see anything happen to them. Isn’t nature cruel sometimes?

  27. Trish Post author

    Hi Chris

    Nature is cruel sometimes. We forget don’t we, how uncivilised nature is and always has been

    BUT – the sparrowhawk population is causing a lot of damage to garden birds

    Take a look at the Songbird Survival website http://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/

    they are trying to save songbirds with science

    thanks for getting in touch. You aren’t alone with sparrowhawks taking songbirds, and you aren’t alone in spending time in the garden trying to protect the garden birds.

    I get quite a few readers who spend time in the garden trying to keep birds of prey away. They go to a lot of lenghts to try and protect the garden birds as well

    Trisha

  28. Trish Post author

    PS I put your comment as an article on Bird Table News on 13 July. I hope all the blackbirds survived

  29. MO

    we had a visit last year from a sparrowhawk it landed on
    a bird in the garden under the pear tree killed it plucked it and flew away with the body. Last sunday morning went out with some bread for the birds as I allways do and saw a pile of black feathers I went to look and there was a yellow beak I knew it was one of the blackbirds who live in our garden. We are visited by many other birds inc finches, nuthatches, tits, robins, rooks, starlings to name a few as we have seed hangers out for them their favorite being sunflower hearts. The garden has been very quiet this week and I have not seen my little blackbird friend who was going grey he would follow me after I had been digging up weeds looking for worms and would be quite happy to be in the garden with me. I will keep looking out for him with hope but…

  30. Don

    1335 on the 02 July 2015
    Just seen a Sparrow Hawk kill another bird in the garden.
    Wife was a little upset, eplained this was nature and the norm.

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