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How does a sparrow hawk kill?

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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 19:55   #1
Jaysan
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How does a sparrow hawk kill?

Apologies if this question is considered gory.

I have read about sparrow hawks drowning etc. Have heard about eagles talons going thro skull of prey, and am curious how the sparrowhawk does the job. From other posts looks like the kill can take some time (15 minutes or longer). Does anyone know the common method for killing prey?
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:02   #2
halftwo
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Sometimes they just eat - and the prey dies. Larger birds take longer - small birds tend to get killed as they are taken: claws into vital organs/blood vessels, head, etc.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:03   #3
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Funnily enough, i think i saw a sparrowhawk kill just last Saturday. It was a woodpigeon. Feathers where everywhere, the head had been dislocated and the bird had started eating it back first. Its back had a big pink fleshy hole in it. So im guessing they bite the head or neck or something like it.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:06   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaysan View Post
Apologies if this question is considered gory.

I have read about sparrow hawks drowning etc. Have heard about eagles talons going thro skull of prey, and am curious how the sparrowhawk does the job. From other posts looks like the kill can take some time (15 minutes or longer). Does anyone know the common method for killing prey?
most times the b.o.p. goes for the head, perigrines usually kill in mid air by a strike to the body killing instantly, an eagle just grasps which is usually good enough, the hawks have been known to pluck thier prey while its still alive
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:09   #5
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Thanks for the quick replies.

Looks like it is the luck of the draw for the prey. Hope not to see a prolonged kill.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:15   #6
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Sometimes they just eat - and the prey dies. Larger birds take longer - small birds tend to get killed as they are taken: claws into vital organs/blood vessels, head, etc.
This is my experience of sparrowhawks. Large prey dies from being eaten, not before.

I came across one eating a pigeon. The pigeon's back was bare to the ribcage, with tendons etc on display, while the hawk dined. The pigeon was walking across field at the time, with the hawk standing on its back as they went.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:34   #7
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This is my experience of sparrowhawks. Large prey dies from being eaten, not before.

I came across one eating a pigeon. The pigeon's back was bare to the ribcage, with tendons etc on display, while the hawk dined. The pigeon was walking across field at the time, with the hawk standing on its back as they went.
Now I wish I hadn't asked the question.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:37   #8
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Now I wish I hadn't asked the question.
Hi I have also seen pictures on the RSPB forum of sparrowhawks grabbing magpies and drowning them,
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 20:46   #9
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most times the b.o.p. goes for the head, perigrines usually kill in mid air by a strike to the body killing instantly, an eagle just grasps which is usually good enough, the hawks have been known to pluck thier prey while its still alive
As HT suggests sparrowhawks kill by driving the powerful back and inner talons into their prey, piercing vital organs, the two outer toes have little power. Obviously, small birds are killed quickly, larger ones take longer to die and may only succumb when vital organs are removed as the bird consumes it's prey alive. Watch an accipiter on prey and you'll see how it continually clenches it's feet, driving talons in deeper.

Wild peregrines by no means kill the majority of prey instantly in a stoop. Falconers birds do this far more often as the circumstances can be manipulated so that the peregrine is 'waiting on' above prey previously marked down or pointed by a dog, allowing the falcon to kill in the 'classic' stoop. Many kills I see involve wild peregrines either stooping from a distance to gather speed, then leveling out and taking prey as it flushes, or tail chasing where the falcon overhauls the bird. Peregrines use several different methods to kill prey, not all of which result in the bird being struck dead in the air. When prey is grounded peregrines kill using their beak, grasping the neck and using the tomial tooth on the bird's upper mandibible to sever the spinal chord.

Cheers
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 21:12   #10
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Most has already been said, but I'll just add a bit more based on watching many kills in my garden:

Firstly; Sparrowhawks don't have a "Kill shot", if the prey dies from the initial strike, it's just luck. Sparrow-sized birds are usually the most fortunate, anything bigger and it's nearly always a very slow death.

A few Sparrowhawks develop a habit of killing quite quickly, in fact it can be instantaneous, but it's a bit "nasty", so I won't explain. The Sparrowhawk will insert it's Talons where it can (neck and chest are favoured most often) and retract, reinsert, wiggle about, etc. IMHO, it's not trying to kill the prey, it's just trying to stop it from struggling, by weakening it. Basically, as soon as the prey has been restrained, the Sparrowhawk begins plucking and eating. Just to be clear "plucking and eating" means pluck - eat - pluck - eat, etc; I've never seen a bird plucked, and then eaten. (BTW, if you can't find examples elsewhere, my gallery has loads of pictures of Sparrowhawks restraining the prey in different ways.) Often the prey appears to go unconscious, only to wake and fight again even though it's been half-eaten.

None of this is "nice" of course, but what else can Sparrowhawks do? They either eat or die, and Nature hasn't given them the ability to kill their prey instantly.

I've rushed this a bit, as I go offline soon, but I've not missed too much out.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 21:24   #11
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Thanks Jonathan and Chris. Interesting facts. Now have to go to sleep, hope not to think of this.
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Old Monday 28th March 2011, 21:51   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by saluki View Post
As HT suggests sparrowhawks kill by driving the powerful back and inner talons into their prey, piercing vital organs, the two outer toes have little power. Obviously, small birds are killed quickly, larger ones take longer to die and may only succumb when vital organs are removed as the bird consumes it's prey alive. Watch an accipiter on prey and you'll see how it continually clenches it's feet, driving talons in deeper.

Wild peregrines by no means kill the majority of prey instantly in a stoop. Falconers birds do this far more often as the circumstances can be manipulated so that the peregrine is 'waiting on' above prey previously marked down or pointed by a dog, allowing the falcon to kill in the 'classic' stoop. Many kills I see involve wild peregrines either stooping from a distance to gather speed, then leveling out and taking prey as it flushes, or tail chasing where the falcon overhauls the bird. Peregrines use several different methods to kill prey, not all of which result in the bird being struck dead in the air. When prey is grounded peregrines kill using their beak, grasping the neck and using the tomial tooth on the bird's upper mandibible to sever the spinal chord.

Cheers
Jonathan
I would surgest that you have not seen many wild perigrines in the qu da grass as its known, in falconry the quarry is usualy killed by the falconer, in the wild the kill is about 80 per cent instant, the qu da gras is made by the bird in about 15 per cent of the takes, most grouse, pigeons, or ducks are killed by the perigrine using nothing but the back talon.
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 07:57   #13
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I once picked up a sparrowhawk 'kill', a redlegged partridge, one entire side of the breast had been eaten away down to the bone. Then the partridge stuck its head up and started struggling, poor devil was still very much alive. Sparrowhawks kill large prey by eating them alive.
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 08:28   #14
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Cooper’s Hawks--maybe all accipiters--behave in exactly in the same way, plucking & eating their prey as soon as soon as they’ve brought it under control, alive or dead. I’ve watched Coopers Hawks eating still living California Quail & Mourning Doves on a number of occasions and rather wish I hadn’t, as it’s not a pleasant thing to see or think about.
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 10:02   #15
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I would surgest that you have not seen many wild perigrines in the qu da grass as its known
Suggest away mate! I'm sure I'm not in your league when it comes to my knowledge of raptors, that's obvious from your previous posts . . .

By the way, you don't mean coup de grâce by any chance do you? Or is 'qu da gras' some technical term I haven't heard of?

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in falconry the quarry is usualy killed by the falconer, in the wild the kill is about 80 per cent instant, the qu da gras is made by the bird in about 15 per cent of the takes, most grouse, pigeons, or ducks are killed by the perigrine using nothing but the back talon.
So, is it 80% clean kills by the falcon . . . or 15%?? or is it 15% of 80%?? Sorry, maths has never been my strong point!

Over forty years of watching both wild and tame peregrines and I clearly haven't learnt a thing!

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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 10:27   #16
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Jonathan: I've no experience of Peregrines and was wondering; do they ever eat prey alive? Or is it their instinct to always kill before starting to eat?
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 11:04   #17
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Jonathan: I've no experience of Peregrines and was wondering; do they ever eat prey alive? Or is it their instinct to always kill before starting to eat?
Hi Chris,

In my experience they generally kill their quarry first. Here's the well-known video of one of the Derby Cathedral peregrines with a woodcock that illustrates my point - watch how the peregrine keeps tweaking the neck of the wader, I think it actually kills it around 48 seconds into the video:

http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=1898

It's macabrely amusing to watch a peregrine with recently-killed prey, often they will reach down and tweak the neck of the kill whenever it twitches, as dead birds can continue to convulse sometimes several minutes after death. Your sparrowhawks will sometimes do the same - a slight twitch from their prey will send them into a frenzy of 'fist-clenching' and stabbing!

Cheers
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 11:47   #18
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Interesting video, Jonathan.

The Falcon's talons seem to be resting on the prey, whereas a Sparrowhawk's will be inserted and kneading the prey. So both know their most effective weapon. Although there was one Sparrowhawk, maybe two, that developed a different approach, which I alluded to in an earlier post; this maybe a bit gory for some:

One of the males (there was 3 males and 2 females regularly visiting at the time; from juve to adult) went through the eye and into the brain of the prey, with his bill, killing the prey within seconds. There's a bit more to it than that, but I think you can imagine the process. I thought it was just a one-off, but I saw it at least twice. I could also hear the difference, as the prey was a Starling, and Starlings don't go quietly. So after the initial screech of the Starling, there was silence. Because of the angle, I'm not sure if a talon was inserted afterwards, but it didn't appear to be needed.

Sparrowhawks are great birds to observe, although I'd swap one for a Peregrine.
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 19:01   #19
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Interesting video, Jonathan.
went through the eye and into the brain of the prey, with his bill, killing the prey within seconds. There's a bit more to it than that, but I think you can imagine the process. I thought it was just a one-off, but I saw it at least twice. I could also hear the difference, as the prey was a Starling, and Starlings don't go quietly. So after the initial screech of the Starling, there was silence. Because of the angle, I'm not sure if a talon was inserted afterwards, but it didn't appear to be needed.

Sparrowhawks are great birds to observe, although I'd swap one for a Peregrine.
Thats what I would have expected when I asked the question. A quick despatch. Surely it would be hard on the sparrow hawk to fight for 15 minutes with a largish bird. Evolution I suppose. Takes time.
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 22:38   #20
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Thats what I would have expected when I asked the question. A quick despatch. Surely it would be hard on the sparrow hawk to fight for 15 minutes with a largish bird. Evolution I suppose. Takes time.
If the bird is effectively disabled, it doesn't really matter to the sparrowhawk (or evolution) whether it is dead or not.

The sparrowhawk's aim is;

(a) to have a meal sufficient to see it through to its next one

and

(b) not to be injured by the prey item to the extent that it unable to hunt for its next meal.

To that end, all the sparrowhawk needs is to injure and immoblise the prey sufficient to protect its own vitals, such as eyes and flight muscles and to protect its feathers sufficient to allow it to hunt efficiently. If the prey is killed as a result of this, so much the better.

To the sparrowhawk, it's totally unimportant as to whether its prey is alive or not when it's being eaten, provided these aims are met.

A blackbird doesn't kill a worm before it's eaten for the same reason - there's no need.
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 22:56   #21
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Hi
Does anyone know how to tell the difference between domestic cat kills and sparrow ask kills. I have seen quite a few dead birds which have been cut open with flesh and guts etc visible, but how does one tell whether it was a cat or a hawk?
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