Nature - Red in Tooth and Claw

05th January 2012
Following on with the Sparrowhawk theme, the female is hardly ever seen in any detail by me, I know she's around because I get fleeting glimpses of her flying overhead and I saw here only last week as I was driving past the entrance to a farm which is just up the lane from my house. She had killed a starling and was sitting on a large stone by the farm entrance with it in her talons but she flew off as I passed.
However, it is quite ironic that over the last two days this female bird has given me the most detailed insight into Sparrowhawk behaviour ever.
It all started when she smashed into a Wood Pigeon that was flying over my garden bringing both of them down onto a grassy area. The pigeon briefly struggled but as she pressed her needle sharp talons into its vital organs it was all over very quickly. I was able to witness this at very close quarters, she then quickly started to pluck her prey but she obviously felt vulnerable in this open position because she dragged the pigeon across the garden to the shelter of a large hedgerow where she began to eat. I noticed that she became very anxious when the wind gusted and I thought a few times she might fly off.
I tried to take a few shots without disturbing her. I let her feed for quite a while and while she was absorbed I crept closer behind a tree. She ate her fill, taking about half an hour, and with a very full crop flew off. I thought that she had finished with her kill and would not return, although there was still quite a lot of flesh left on one breast.
I decided, just in case she returned, to set up more gear and wait. About three hours later she returned and began eating again, this time finishing the other breast. I was able to take some close up shots of her because she was so absorbed that she tolerated my presence. She left with another full crop and did not return again that day.
That night I fully expected the remains of the pigeon to have been eaten by whatever creatures move around during that time, Fox etc.
On this occasion this did not happen;
I knew that Sparrowhawks returned to their kills for a short time after, usually if they are disturbed but I never expected her to return the following day, but return she did. She immediately turned the pigeon over onto its side and began eating again, this time pulling out the entrails etc, she was obviously not going to waste anything. This time when her crop was full she dragged the bird into the hedge so it couldn't be seen by the local corvids etc, seeing this I knew she was coming back and she came back another twice that day and picked the pigeon to the bone. She was a proper hunter, killing to eat and wasting nothing!
I was surprised by the effort required to pluck a big bird such as a Pigeon.
After each feed she found a wet patch of grass to clean her bill and face, in this she was most particular, she also preened and rearranged her feathers as they became quite untidy during feeding.
I have not seen her since but over those two days I felt I knew her a lot better and I was grateful for the little insight into her world.
Please see UK Birds.