Eurasian Sparrowhawk

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Is the Eurasian Sparrowhawk right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Northern Sparrowhawk; European Sparrowhawk

Scientific name: Accipiter nisus

The basics:
The Eurasian Sparrowhawk is the traditional sparrowhawk of European falconry, and it has a history in the sport going back to at least medieval times.

Because of the licensing and expertise required to be a responsible owner of a bird of prey, the following information is offered only as a hint of what you will need to learn to work with Sparrowhawks. There is no substitute for hands-on training, which we strongly recommend that you pursue before trying to acquire any bird of prey.

There are six or seven subspecies of the widespread, highly successful Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a bold well-known bird predator capable of darting through thick forests at high speed to catch its flying prey. The familiar Sparrowhawk of English falconry and literature is the nominate subspecies, A. n. nisus.

Well into the 1960s, some people referred to the American Kestrel, a New World falcon, as a “Sparrow Hawk,” but this nickname is (fortunately) falling out of use. The two species are not closely related and should not be confused.

Like other woodland Accipiters, the Eurasian Sparrowhawk has short wings and a long tail, allowing it to fly swiftly through the trees in pursuit of flying prey like small birds. The dapper adult male is smaller than his mate, with slate or bluish upperparts that contrast nicely with his mottled orange breast and belly. Females are browner above, with grey barring.

Male: 137 grams (5 oz.)
Female: 256 grams (9 oz.)

Average size: 28 - 38 centimeters

15 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
Despite its history in falconry, and its success in the wild, the Eurasian Sparrowhawk is not, in fact, all that easy to handle. The small size of the males may make them tricky for beginners to keep at the right weight, and there seems to be a great deal of individual variation in how well any given bird, male or female, works out for the falconer. They are generally considered to be somewhat nervous and temperamental.

An expert may find them a very rewarding species, because of their intelligence, maneuverability, and their willingness to fly into thick cover. A beginner may find them extremely frustrating – and for the same reason. An intelligent, maneuverable bird in thick cover is no joke, and a well-fed, overweight bird may see no reason to return to its owner.

Eurasian Sparrowhawks are, of course, adapted to the damp, sometimes cool climate of England and other parts of western Europe, where the wild birds can be easily seen – even within the city of London. Therefore, they are not difficult to house if you use common sense. Provide sufficient room and proper perches, and don't expect these forest birds to sit out in direct sunlight. Like all birds of prey, they enjoy a shallow water bath for bathing.

The spirited Sparrowhawk is a talented predator that captures birds in flight as well as on the ground. Do not rely solely on day old chicks. Instead, provide a varied diet that includes such items as Coturnix quail and other small birds, as well as rodents. Clean water should always be available.

Written by Elaine Radford

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