Click here to see a short video of a sparrow hawk eating its prey in a garden in Donegal.
On the Saturday before Easter, a wood pigeon met its demise. A large female sparrowhawk had hunted it through the trees behind the garden. We disturbed it by accident, just as it was finishing off its prey on the grass behind a hedge, so it flew into the woods and disappeared. Once we were sure of the type of prey a camera was put in place and set to record. All in the house had been planning a walk so off we went to leave the hunter in peace.
On our return three hours later the footage was checked. Within three minutes of us leaving in the car a female sparrow hawk appeared from the woods. Female raptors, or birds of prey tend to be a lot bigger than the males. It is believed this is an evolutionary trait that ensures the pair do not compete with each other for prey; males tending to go for smaller prey. With no more than a quick look around she hopped on to her prey and started plucking. She plucked both breasts quickly and efficiently and stripped the meat down to the ribs. All of this feasting took a full thirty minutes. It is not surprising that she waiting for us to go despite a camera being set up and the disturbance that causes. Its estimated that only 5% of a sparrow hawks hunts are successful. So if this bird in the garden had failed in its last 19 attempts to catch prey its not surprising that she stuck around to claim her catch.
Male sparrowhawks are not much bigger than a blackbird; females are a bit larger than a pigeon. They can hunt through trees and are sometimes seen chasing their victims through hedges and undergrowth on foot. Look out for them around your area, they are quite common and very beautiful!