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Magpies kill a Sparrowhawk

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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 06:58   #1
Andy Hall
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Magpies kill a Sparrowhawk

I've just received an email from an observer in Notts who videod the whole event. Apparently a Sparrowhawk attacked a Magpie on his bird table. There was a brief struggle, when two other Magpies joined in, in defence and the three birds set about and mortally wounded the Sprawk. The guy, took it into care but it died a couple of hours later. Has anyone else heard of this behaviour of passerines mobbing and killing a bird of prey?
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 08:06   #2
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Originally Posted by Andy Hall View Post
I've just received an email from an observer in Notts who videod the whole event. Apparently a Sparrowhawk attacked a Magpie on his bird table. There was a brief struggle, when two other Magpies joined in, in defence and the three birds set about and mortally wounded the Sprawk. The guy, took it into care but it died a couple of hours later. Has anyone else heard of this behaviour of passerines mobbing and killing a bird of prey?
Sounds incredible, have you actually seen the video?
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 08:14   #3
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Nope, the guy is hoping to upload it and send it to me. Will post more info/footage as and when.
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 09:33   #4
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Look forward to seeing this video (not to see a bird die obviously).
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 09:57   #5
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Perhaps the Magpie attacked was a juvenile, and the other two were the parents. Would still be an interesting video, I'm wondering if the Sparrowhawk was a male or maybe a youngster.
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 10:32   #6
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Doesn't really surprise me. This year's crop of new magpies seem to be a right bunch of thugs. They are continuously harassing the juvenile pheasants and moorhens and are the only ones that don't disappear when the new Sparrowhawk arrives (although they do scarper when the female - possibly the parent - turns up).

I blame all the violence on TV.
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 10:41   #7
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Can't wait to see this video either sounds intresting!

BTW hollis_f i was just looking at your pics, they're brilliant! Especially loved the ones at Bempton, brings back memories when I was a lot younger going up there :-)
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 10:57   #8
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Most Corvids will mob birds of Prey,the ferocity of the attack is often dependant on whether the Corvid have young.
I have never seen it end in a fatality though,most BOP will beat a hasty retreat to avoid injury.
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 11:04   #9
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I've never seen anything this extreme but the "seet" response is a prime example of behaviour that involves individual birds making a response to a predator that benefits the whole community. Each bird as an individual would be better frozen and silent if it sees a predator. However, for this strategy to select over time the bird has to be 100% able to spot the predator. What has actually selected in is the universally understood call by most small passerines which signals the approach of predators to everyone, the knock on effect being a "scratch my back if I scratch yours" policy which enables all individuals to take avoiding action and increase their vigilance, interrupting feeding etc. It's easy to anthropomorphise and see this as empathy but it's not: what it is is instinct selected in by generations of the individuals who do this being the ones that survive.

Magpies, on the other hand, and most crows, are large enough to not only adopt a seet approach but to actively harrass and attack seen predators with the prospect of potentially inflicting severe injury (unlike smaller mobbing response birds). They often do this as pairs but the more social crows such as Magpies have often been seen by me co-operating in gangs of up to five chasing off Kestrels and Sparrowhawks at Marton Mere. They just will not tolerate them. Carrion Crows seem to similarly find Buzzards intolerable. The Kestrel/Sparrowhawk generally flies off and cannot endure the attack. I've never seen them actually down a Kestrel and inflict any serious direct injury, but I'm pretty certain they would if the kestrel stuck around or fought back. It's pretty obvious that there is a massive advantage to this form of response to predators, let's face it, it's pretty similar to our own.

I'm certain that if this incident is correct, and I have little reason to doubt it, it's a result of what happens when a preoccupied predator doesn't see the other Magpies until too late and takes a serious early injury in the exchange. Again it's easy to anthropomorphise and see it as a vigorous defence of one of their own, but they'd have probably attacked the Sparrowhawk on sight anyway. The difference here is that they got a fight rather than a chase. Again, it makes evolutionary sense for them to kill (and even possibly eat) the Sparrowhawk if the opportunity presents itself.

Another version of this could be that crows have a built in response to seeing a predator take prey - they drive it off and take the kill. I've seen a pair of Carrion Crows do this to a Sparrowhawk. Again, this could have triggered the response - like a double whammy of reasons to attack. Silly Sprawk for sticking it out or not noticing what it was getting into. There are many versions of this scenario in wildlife - a lion attacking a supposedly lone hyena might get a similar outcome.
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Old Friday 28th August 2009, 11:43   #10
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We had a pair of Magpies nest in the tree at the end of the garden this year and for several weeks it was contstant 'mob violence' nothing was safe the only birds that would stay in the tree or that end of the garden were the wood pigeons which the magpies totally ignored everything else was seen off Sparrowhawks included. There was a terribly racket one morning so we went to look and the parent Magpies were holding a Jackdaw down on its back in the brook and were definitely intent on killing it - our arrival saved the Jackdaw. However the attacks went on until the young were several weeks old - once they left the nesting sight the sparrowhawk came back with avengence and for 2/3 weeks we saw it fly off with a Blackbird most days.
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Old Monday 31st August 2009, 20:38   #11
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i have heard of 6 magpies downing a kestrel, not sure if it was male or female. in most cases if the raptor responds aggressively i think most corvids usually flee. most are usually all caw and no action. they are not as brave as they make out to be. they have a lot to lose out if they tangle with a bird of prey too.

funnily enough i have heard of up to 5 ravens mobbing marsh harrier, more than 5 ravens mobbing buzzards ....you would think that they would probably be able to kill a lone bird of prey but have never hard of it.

i ddi rad somewhere that a man left a marsh hawk alone in captivity with a raven and when he woke up there was a raven left with a few feathers.
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Old Monday 31st August 2009, 23:12   #12
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I've never seen anything this extreme but the "seet" response is a prime example of behaviour that involves individual birds making a response to a predator that benefits the whole community. Each bird as an individual would be better frozen and silent if it sees a predator. However, for this strategy to select over time the bird has to be 100% able to spot the predator. What has actually selected in is the universally understood call by most small passerines which signals the approach of predators to everyone, the knock on effect being a "scratch my back if I scratch yours" policy which enables all individuals to take avoiding action and increase their vigilance, interrupting feeding etc. It's easy to anthropomorphise and see this as empathy but it's not: what it is is instinct selected in by generations of the individuals who do this being the ones that survive.
Interesting, but I’m not sure I follow your argument. It’s obviously advantageous for birds to respond to hawk warning calls—whether given by conspecifics or by other species—but to give them, how is there any advantage in that? The most that could be said, I would have thought, is that there would be little or no selection against such behavior as long as it the bird giving the call was not thereby put at extra risk. But maybe I’m missing some subtlety here?
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Old Tuesday 1st September 2009, 10:03   #13
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Interesting, but I’m not sure I follow your argument. It’s obviously advantageous for birds to respond to hawk warning calls—whether given by conspecifics or by other species—but to give them, how is there any advantage in that? The most that could be said, I would have thought, is that there would be little or no selection against such behavior as long as it the bird giving the call was not thereby put at extra risk. But maybe I’m missing some subtlety here?
I guess it's because evolution doesn't work on individual organisms, but on genes.

Yes, it would be advantageous for the individual bird, upon observing a predator, to keep schtum and hide itself. The predator is much more likely to catch one of the bird's comapnions. If selection worked on individuals then they would all take the seemingly selfish route.

But the birds companions, the predators victims, are likely to have a similar genetic makeup. So that scenario still involves the loss of the same genes. And it would be much easier for the predator if each individual acts selfishly and doesn't warn its companions.

As a gentically similar population, the selfish birds would, possibly, not be as successful as a population that had the 'altruistic' gene for warning companions. So natural selection, working on populations, not individuals, could easily select for the observed beahavious.

In Meerkats, where a member of the family is posted as a lookout, a similar thing happens. But it has been observed that the lookout will only issue a warning one it has got itself to a relatively safe position. I wonder if the same thing does happen with birds.
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Old Tuesday 1st September 2009, 13:32   #14
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Good timing of this thread.

Last week a work colleague found a Perigrin in his Macclesfield garden with a kill which is amazing enough, he thinks the kill was a dove. The commotion outside was a magpie trying to steal the kill..... The Perigrin flew off still holding the kill.

Would have been intresting if the magpies had ganged up.

I did question if it was a Sparrowhawk but he insists that this was a Perigrin, has anyone else has one in their garden?? Not a bad garden tick.
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Old Tuesday 1st September 2009, 15:43   #15
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I guess it's because evolution doesn't work on individual organisms, but on genes.

Yes, it would be advantageous for the individual bird, upon observing a predator, to keep schtum and hide itself. The predator is much more likely to catch one of the bird's comapnions. If selection worked on individuals then they would all take the seemingly selfish route.

But the birds companions, the predators victims, are likely to have a similar genetic makeup. So that scenario still involves the loss of the same genes. And it would be much easier for the predator if each individual acts selfishly and doesn't warn its companions.

As a gentically similar population, the selfish birds would, possibly, not be as successful as a population that had the 'altruistic' gene for warning companions. So natural selection, working on populations, not individuals, could easily select for the observed beahavious.

In Meerkats, where a member of the family is posted as a lookout, a similar thing happens. But it has been observed that the lookout will only issue a warning one it has got itself to a relatively safe position. I wonder if the same thing does happen with birds.
Yes, but meerkat families consist of close kin. The question I posed is how warning behavior of the kind described can evolve among animals not closely related to each other, such as the members of mixed flocks of passerines mobbing birds of prey. Surely, in the context of such flocks, if there are 2 birds, one with a “sit tight & keep quiet” version of the relevant gene or genes & the other with a “warn everybody else even at the cost of some slight danger to myself” version, selection will favor the former?
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Old Wednesday 2nd September 2009, 12:03   #16
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A quick update. The observer says he's trying to get the video editted as it's currently about 900Mb. Will update again when new developments.
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Old Wednesday 2nd September 2009, 15:38   #17
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I've heard of the other way round, a sparrowhawk drowning a magpie in a pond.
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 06:51   #18
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I recently watched an awful video of a Sparrowhawk eating a Magpie alive.

It was terrible to listen to the screeching of the Magpie, I believe Magpies are very intelligent and it was suffering terribly.

Nice to hear about the revenge mission
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 06:58   #19
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I recently watched an awful video of a Sparrowhawk eating a Magpie alive.

It was terrible to listen to the screeching of the Magpie, I believe Magpies are very intelligent and it was suffering terribly.

Nice to hear about the revenge mission
Nature isn't "nice", and it's never "nice" to hear of anything dying. Birds eat Birds, there's no emotion, just survival or death.
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 06:59   #20
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Nature isn't "nice", and it's never "nice" to hear of anything dying. Birds eat Birds, there's no emotion, just survival or death.
That video I saw was particularly terrible
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 07:09   #21
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That video I saw was particularly terrible
I've watched many Collard Doves and Starlings eaten alive by Sparrowhawks; I've also watched juvenile Starlings and Sparrows eaten alive by Jays and Magpies. Like I said, it's not "nice", a Starling screech of distress is something you don't forget.

However, afterwards the birds return to my garden as if nothing has happened. Birds aren't human, and anthropomorphizing won't make them human. There is no good or bad in Nature.

As for intelligence, Pigs are supposed to be highly intelligent, perhaps even being aware that they are going to die; people still eat bacon. (not me, as I'm a vegetarian)
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 07:58   #22
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Birds aren't human, and anthropomorphizing won't make them human. There is no good or bad in Nature.
I know, but as humans , I think we will always prefer one animal over another. Human nature...

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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 08:12   #23
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I know, but as humans , I think we will always prefer one animal over another. Human nature...
Unfortunately that's mostly true. For myself, I'm lucky; I've got to the stage where whatever Bird/Mammal/Insect, that I'm observing at the time, is my favourite. The good thing is I can now appreciate "what makes them tick", and it's not what makes us tick, so to speak.

Every other Species, apart from Man, kills to improve it's chances of survival. Territorial disputes, bullying others lower down the pecking order, eating a bird/mammal alive because they lack a "kill shot", etc.

Humans mostly kill because they can, or because they are bored, or because it makes them feel powerful, or for profit, etc.

Anyway, I've helped to drag this thread way off-topic (I know, it's not the first time ), apologies to the OP.
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 08:25   #24
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It must have been an immature or male sprawk, a fully grown female can sort out a magpie in seconds, as I have witnessed many times.
And as for mobbing by crows, I saw a C.Crow try to mob a female goshawk a few weeks ago, poor crow..........
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Old Saturday 5th September 2009, 08:59   #25
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You can't "play" with Magpies, they are hard birds.. One of my faouvrites.

Strange thing is that there are shy Magpies and not shy Magpies. In the town of Kiruna they are not shy, but up here in a small village in the mountains they are VERY shy, just a blink of the eye and they fly away.

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