For some years now, I’ve been noticing a particular call in the woods during spring. You should be quite surprised at this, because I am notoriously unobservant and can rarely spot anything unusual or interesting. Then, this spring, I came across what I took to be a bird of prey with a pigeon not far from the weir bridge; this was just beside the trees we planted in January close to Pinehurst Road.
I did a bit of research on the internet (how on earth did we manage to find stuff out before this amazing invention?) and had a listen to the birds on www.british-birdsongs.uk. My dog got a bit mystified as I worked my way through the recordings of black kite, red kite, kestrel, merlin, buzzard, peregrine falcon and more. Well, enough of the waffle, it transpired that it was the call of the sparrowhawk I was hearing. Steve (Thompson) posted the information on our Facebook page a little while ago.
Then, suddenly, there were no more calls. What had just happened? Had we let the cat out of the bag and vandals had done away with our beautiful birds of prey? On my daily walk, I noticed a car-sticker calling for action to protect songbirds and racing pigeons – horror of horrors!
Then Google let me down. I could find articles about the effect of birds of prey on local songbird populations (not significant apparently, so the car-sticker person should worry less) and lots of other information, like for example, that the female is larger than the male, so the latter is able to manoeuvre much better than his missus, but no information about seasonal calls.
Eventually, I emailed the British Trust for Ornithology. The reply was at the same time comforting as well as perturbing:
“In short, you are right about Sparrowhawks only being vocal during the breeding season. The male will call to the female when he brings food in. He doesn’t approach the nest as he might become food himself – males are much smaller than females – the food is handed over away from the nest to much calling by the female. Once the young get bigger they too will call for food. Once the young leave the nest they will perch close by for a week or two and call for food but once they become independent the wood will fall silent until next year. Outside of the breeding season Sparrowhawks are largely silent.”
So, there you have it. Our sparrowhawks are safe at HBUF, though the male is rather less safe than the female.