Do Sparrowhawks prey on weak and old birds

I had a question a while ago from a lady who wondered if a sparrowhawk had come to her garden because there were some birds there that were ill and so were easy to prey on.

I replied –

Hi, What an interesting view. There could be something in that.

Maybe the sparrowhawk saw weak and ill victims that were an easy source or prey. Like a lion stalking it’s prey – looking for the old or the very young or the ill.  But not sure sparrowhawks hunt like that all the time.


I was pleased I got a reply

Hi Trish,

It seems my theory could be right as I have found the following information on the RSPB website

‘Sparrowhawks don’t specialise in particular species, but take whatever is available and easy to catch. As a result, the most frequently caught birds are numerous and conspicuous, or easily caught.
They go for easy prey such as the sick, old, weak or injured and remove primarily birds that would have died of other causes anyway. This makes the remaining songbird population fitter and healthier.’

I found this fascinating Trish, nature is amazing isn’t it?


Hi J, It’s really fascinating and believable. The trouble is I’m not sure I believe  

  •  I have seen a sparowhawk with a healthy blackbird in its talons.
  • Over the years I’ve heard of sparrowhawks hunting and attacking healthy birds. 
  • I know two people who stopped feeding birds because sparowhawks were killing any healthy bird that landed on the birdtable.  They had to clean blood off the  birdtables! This was in the suburbs of York.  The two women were fed up of the blood of birds on the bird table so they stopped feeding birds.

My personal view is that it could be correct up to a point.

Sparrowhawks may take the easy option and take the weak and ill first. But they also take many breeding birds and healthy birds .

A group called Song Bird Survival  put the point that “many conservation bodies avoid the issue of uncontrolled predation on song birds for ideological reasons”So we have two groups saying different things.

  •   RSPB say sparrowhawks don’t do a lot of damage.
  •   Songbird Survival say that there could be ‘uncontrolled predation’.

Songbird Survival doing research into predation and it’s effections on garden, farm and woodland birds. I have joined Songbird Survival.

I already belong to the RSPB so I could get both sides of the bird story. Sorry if this note is a bit long, but as you say it’s fascination. Best. Trisha


  • Hi again Trisha,
  • Thanks for your comprehensive reply, the more I look into this subject the more complicated it becomes.It seems that both arguments have validity and I suspect a lot more research needs to be done before any definite conclusions can be drawn.However in my own case I do think the Sparrowhawk was initially attracted to my garden due to it spotting easy prey as a result of some birds showing signs of illness. I just hope if that was the case then having removed any sick birds he will move on to another hunting ground and that my garden will once again become the tranquil place it used to be …..apart from the dratted neighbours cat that is!

    Best wishes, Jan



  • Very interesting.  But I believe that what  SongBird Survival  says does make sense . 
  • Birds of Prey must have an effect on the bird population that they prey on. It’s like us going into a supermarket – we leave the shelves a little emptier than when we walked in.


 Any comments welcome.





1 thought on “Do Sparrowhawks prey on weak and old birds

  1. Shell

    I think Sparrowhawks will hunt whatever they can get to first unless they can sense when something is not worth hunting due to disease.

    I had to stop feeding my birds for a while until it was safe for them to return and thankfully I have not seen a SH hunting in the garden for many months now. All I know is the SH used to take various spots in the garden so that it had a clear run to catch whatever it fancied.


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