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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 12:19   #1
Gerry Hooper
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Suprising Sparrowhawk behaviour

I got a shock this morning when I walked out the back door to see a Sparrowhawk floating in the pond.See Attached pic.
It was struggling with something in his talons, the struggling stopped and it emerged from the pond carrying a large rat.
It was too heavy for it to lift over the hedge so it spent 20 mins. devouring it on the lawn.
Is it unusual for Sparrowhawks to take anything other than birds, there's no mention of it in any books I've got.
The rats do sit on the bird table and even climb the tree to get to the feeders,maybe the Sparrowhawk made a mistake.
Also, would it of intentionally taken the rat to the pond to drown it or was that just a happy accident?
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 12:48   #2
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Wow! the more stories I hear about spawks, the less I am surprised. What fascinating birds they are.
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 13:48   #3
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It does seem to be rare for Sparrowhawks to take mammals; drowning captured prey is fairly common though - lucky you Gerry!

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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 14:30   #4
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Possibly the story was like this: rat was attacked on the ground and run into the water with Sparrowhawk in pusruit. The Sparrowhawk caught the rat in the water and didn't let go.
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 14:46   #5
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I don't know how unusual it is but I wish I'd seen it.
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 15:21   #6
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Or, sparrowhawk swoops on table, get surprised with catching rat, plummets to ground and is dragged into water by shoked rat. Rat then drowns.
Its a theory?
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 15:50   #7
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Question, i was told by another member that male sprawks are too small to catch woodpigeons yet yesterday i saw a very small male on a large and still live (soon to be ex-)pigeon, most definitely in control. Has anyone else seen male sprawks taking very large prey.
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 16:19   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hotspur
Question, i was told by another member that male sprawks are too small to catch woodpigeons yet yesterday i saw a very small male on a large and still live (soon to be ex-)pigeon, most definitely in control. Has anyone else seen male sprawks taking very large prey.
I was out with a few lads on the weekend at my local reserve (silent Valley , SE wales) and we came across a birds plucking site. there were three 'piles' of feathers all definatly woodies, later on that day there was a male sprawk hunting in the forest not far away from the kill sites. i was told though that a sprawk would definatly not take anything that big, i was told i was probably a peregrine. interesting though and probably correct
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 16:29   #9
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Hi Luke,

If the kills were in the forest it's doubtful they would be Peregrine. A Musket (male) would struggle with a Woodie, most females wouldn't.

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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 16:30   #10
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interesting pic!

it seems sparrowhawks are going to extremes to find/catch prey recently. maybe the reason they are doing so very well, eating whatever they can get there talons on!. i have heard of raptors drowning there prey, but never came across a sparrowhawk eating a rat.

makes you think they could catch squirrel?
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 19:42   #11
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Cool

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hotspur
Question, i was told by another member that male sprawks are too small to catch woodpigeons yet yesterday i saw a very small male on a large and still live (soon to be ex-)pigeon, most definitely in control. Has anyone else seen male sprawks taking very large prey.
The local male sprawk is always trying to take on the much bigger woodies, the last 2 flew off, minus a few feathers, he should leave it to the female to do the shopping!
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 21:01   #12
Gerry Hooper
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Cheers Folks,
I must say I was suprised when it came out of the pond with a four legged furry thing with a tail.
Probably won't see that again on a Tuesday!
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Old Tuesday 15th March 2005, 21:21   #13
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Hi there Gerry,

Fantastic tale, I do remember reading something similar of a Sparrowhawk drowning a prey item - though don't remember whether it was a mammal (I think not).

Here, Sparrowhawks are most amuzing in their hunting method - when they come into the garden, the feeding flocks dive into my hedge. This can mean as many as 200 birds in the hedge (totally leafless at this time of year). Probably in an attempt to flush one out, the Sparrowhawks fly above the hedge, then drop in like a stone, then again fly vertically up a metre or so, fluip over and again drop like a stone back into the hedge. Often they do this eight or ten times, each drop being slightly further along the hedge.
An alternative approach with one of the Sparrowhawks is to run (!) after the birds in the hedge - this is most interesting to watch! Walks along the ground, then darts into the middle of the hedge, then runs along the length, jumping over low branches, whilst all the congregated passerines continuously edge further along, staying a safe distance in front.
Never seen successful kill from the 'run approach' and only once from the 'drop'. Infact the Sparrowhawks usually fly up to the neighbouring pines and hit back a few minutes later. Interestingly, birds are back on the feeders literally within seconds of the Sparrowhawk departing.
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Old Wednesday 16th March 2005, 10:55   #14
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Hello all,
Sparrowhawks are noted for their "STICKY FEET" as falconers say, basically once they grip their prey they cannot let go until the adrenelin levels subside.
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Old Wednesday 16th March 2005, 15:47   #15
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I have seen a female sparrowhawk take a redshank on the local river and it pinned the bird down easily.
Also one came through the fence from nextdoor walking along the ground hiding behind the plants and bushes trying to reach the blackbirds. Crafty critter. I interfered with nature here and moved it on.

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Old Wednesday 16th March 2005, 20:50   #16
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I seen a sparrowhawk take a rat at a site called the wirral country park, they have a hide set up for the public, and it attracts rats a plenty, anyway this Sparrowhawk took a small rat and started to devour it not 30 feet from the hide.
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Old Wednesday 16th March 2005, 22:23   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hotspur
Question, i was told by another member that male sprawks are too small to catch woodpigeons yet yesterday i saw a very small male on a large and still live (soon to be ex-)pigeon, most definitely in control. Has anyone else seen male sprawks taking very large prey.
There was a previous thread about this in December-January (I think). That related to a report of a male Sparrowhawk carrying a dead Wood Pigeon. I notice from your report that the Wood Pigeon was in the middle of a road, and wonder whether the male Sparrowhawk was not just finishing off a Woodie that had been struck, but not killed, by a car. Wood Pigeon weigh about 3 and a half to 4 times as much as a male Sparrowhawk on average, and to strike one down in flight would be a major undertaking for a male Sparrowhawk, and even a bit of a task for a female. In the opinion of one expert relying to a question I have asked elsewhere, a male Sparrowhawk launching a successful strike on a Woodie (strong birds and powerful fliers) would be something of a rarity. Forsman in his 'Raptors' book implies that even female Sparrowhawks catching Wood Pigeon is the exception rather than the rule. However others say that in certain areas Woodies form a large part of the female Sparrowhawk diet. So it's a point that needs to be cleared up.
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Old Wednesday 16th March 2005, 22:35   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RecoveringScot
Forsman in his 'Raptors' book implies that even female Sparrowhawks catching Wood Pigeon is the exception rather than the rule. However others say that in certain areas Woodies form a large part of the female Sparrowhawk diet. So it's a point that needs to be cleared up.
Both are true - Woodies are so big, that even though they're a fairly scarce catch, when they do get one, it is as much food as several other birds (e.g. about 5 Blackbirds, 15 House Sparrows or 50 Blue Tits). So a Woodie a month still makes a substantial percentage of the total food consumption.
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Old Wednesday 16th March 2005, 23:34   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nutcracker
Both are true - Woodies are so big, that even though they're a fairly scarce catch, when they do get one, it is as much food as several other birds (e.g. about 5 Blackbirds, 15 House Sparrows or 50 Blue Tits). So a Woodie a month still makes a substantial percentage of the total food consumption.
I understood from the previous posting I had in mind, which may have gone down in the 'great crash', that the poster implied that Wood Pigeon were (in a heavily forested area of Northumberland) significant prey items in terms of catch frequency, not just proportion of total prey weight, though I may be wrong.
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Old Thursday 17th March 2005, 10:18   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RecoveringScot
I understood from the previous posting I had in mind, which may have gone down in the 'great crash', that the poster implied that Wood Pigeon were (in a heavily forested area of Northumberland) significant prey items in terms of catch frequency, not just proportion of total prey weight, though I may be wrong.
Falconers have know for centuries that hawks often become 'wedded' to certain prey. I knew a Peregrine tiercel that would fly through a flock of Rooks, Woodies or Jackdaws to nail a Hoodie! Despite the fact that he often took a battering, he would always seek out Hoodies. We also had a wild Spar that decimated our pigeons, killing 2 or 3 a week. She'd started killing them as an eyass and continued on throughout the winter. Over the years other Spars have taken the odd pigeon, but none have been so dedicated as this particular individual.

I think, therefore, that some Spars will kill more Woodies than others. For example, if an eyass female Gos attempts to take a Brown Hare and receives a good kicking for it's troubles, it will usually refuse to ever look at one again. But if it manages - more through luck than judgement - to take it in the correct manner and subdue the hare easily, it will then continue to take hares throughout it's career. Likewise, a young Spar may go through a similar experience with a Woodie.

I wonder how the figures on Spars killing Wood Pigeon were arrived at? If it was from kills brought into the nest then surely it is flawed? Apart from the fact that the Musket would do most of the hunting initially, the female would surely kill smaller prey to enable her to carry it to a nest 40ft up a Larch tree! In my experience Spars rarely carry pigeons any distance.

Finally, I too have seen a Spar kill a rat. It was only a very small one though, young rats often climb up plants and feed on the seed heads - rather like mice. This particular unfortunate individual was doing just that when a female Spar plucked it off the seed head!

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Old Thursday 17th March 2005, 15:09   #21
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Hi, the woody i saw the male sprawk with was very much alive but in deep trouble. Looked as if it had been rammed off its perch in a thicket by the sprawk and was on its back making a desperate last struggle but not getting very far as it was restricted by the thicket and the bird. I was looking into the thicket from the road and was attracted by the struggle and was extremely close to the action, 8 feet or so away. It wouldn't surprise me if this close combat situation was quite common but i can see a how a male sparrowhawk would struggle when not in a place which limited the pigeons mobility.
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Old Thursday 17th March 2005, 21:42   #22
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A couple of years ago we had a sparrowhawk (unknown gender) locally which regularly took woodpigeons. On one occasion I saw it sitting on a very recently dead one -- on another, a neatly plucked, headless carcase was abandoned in the paddock (this ended up in a rather fine pie together with a squirrel).

This seems to agree with the suggestion that some individuals develop a pigeon habit. On another occasion (elsewhere in the New Forest) I saw another sparrowhawk on a not-yet-dead woodpigeon.

The incident James describes of the struggle in the bushes is very like one I saw in about 1978 in a shrubbery in a front garden in Guildford. However, in this case the pigeon was a collared dove, and the hawk was a male kestrel. They seemed evenly matched, with the dove trying several times to escape, each time being battled to the ground again by the kestrel. Eventually the kestrel noticed me watching over the top of a fence about 2 metres away, and skedaddled -- the dove took the opportunity to flee too, apparently without major injury.

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Old Thursday 17th March 2005, 22:55   #23
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I found a young Rabbit in a Sparrowhawks nest once. Killing a Wood Pigeon is no problem for a male Sparrowhawk, however carrying it off is, usually if a male kills a pigeon it will partly eat it on the spot and may come back later for another go (that's how the keepers find them so easy to trap/shoot etc).

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Old Friday 18th March 2005, 00:41   #24
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If the rat was to heavy for the Sprawk to lift over the hedge, could it be that he did take it off the bird table, but was unprepared for the weight and accidentally ended up in the pond?
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Old Friday 18th March 2005, 09:04   #25
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Possibly the rat was swimming and the Sprawk misjudged the water and went for it there?
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