Second Half of May 2021

The second half of May became drier and sunnier. Although we did still have a few rain showers one of which this squirrel got caught out in.wet grey squirrelThe sparrowhawk helped herself to one of the pigeons.sparrowhawk on dead pigeonA carrion crow checked out the carcass, but despite its name decided it preferred suet pellets.crow with dead pigeonAt least two hedgehogs have been regularly visiting the hedgehog feeder throughout each night.infrared hedgehogThe wood pigeons have been pairing off amidst much billing and cooing.two wood pigeonsI think it is fair to say that the trees are now fully in leaf.leafy treesSome are in flower like the Midlands Hawthorn.pink blossomsThe white lilac always flowers after the purple lilac for some reason.white lilac flowersThe ceanothus is still attracting the bees.bee on blue flowerAs are the geraniums.bee on pink flowerWild strawberries are blossoming.white flowers with yellow middlesThey grow amongst the Herb Robert, all over the paths!pink flowersSomewhat more flamboyant is this peony.red flowerThe dog roses indicate that summer is very nearly here, along with the sound of screaming swifts overhead.white rose#NoMowMay comes to an end with a dandelion seed head against a backdrop of germander speedwell.dandelion seed head

 

 

Sparrowhawk’s Breakfast

I am starting this post with a pretty picture, in the hope that this picture will be the one displayed in the WordPress Reader and my tweet. Once you get past this picture the text and images will take on a more grisly nature.Photo of bee in evening primrose

Back in March I found a pool of blood near the bird table and then noticed the feathers fluttering about on the lawn.  Photo of pigeon blood

Closer inspection revealed the body of a pigeon. The aura of plucked feathers indicated that the bird had been killed by a sparrowhawk. Past experience told me that she would be back in the morning to finish her meal, so I positioned my wildlife camera to capture the event.Photo of feathers on lawn

The poor hen pigeon was in the process of forming an egg when death came mercilessly upon her from above.Photo of dead pigeon

The early bird gets an egg for breakfast. The first visitor was a magpie who snatched the egg from the pigeon’s body and flew off with it.Photo of magpie

Shortly afterwards the sparrowhawk arrived and proceeded to further pluck and eat her meal. When the pigeon had been reduced in weight she flew off with the remains of the carcass to eat somewhere safer.Photo of sparrowhawk

It is a female sparrowhawk that visits our garden. She is larger and browner than the male. Traditionally these birds are woodland hunters; highly manoeuvrable, their tactic is to hide in cover and ambush other birds with a brief chase.Photo of sparrowhawk

Habitat loss, persecution by game keepers and the use of a now banned pesticide saw their numbers crash. Being an apex predator they are susceptible to bioaccumulation, whereby the poisons ingested but not excreted in prey build up; firstly in insects, then the birds that feed on the insects and finally the raptors that feed on those birds. However, they are now recovering and have learnt that our gardens are a useful resource for them.Photo of sparrowhawk

It seems that the larger females are generally more likely to be found in urban gardens where they take down blackbirds and the larger doves and pigeons, while the smaller males are pursuing song birds in woodlands.Photo of sparrowhawk

There are some more facts, literature and historical fancies in my previous post Sparrowhawk here. If you wish to watch a video of the sparrowhawk eating her breakfast you can watch it on You Tube here. The end.Photo of sparrowhawk

Supper Time

We think of our gardens as places where we relax, or work in order to relax in pleasing surroundings. However, to the wildlife that share our gardens, they are just open air restaurants. The hoglets have their supper first, one of them is always late.Photo of hoglets

Then the adults have their share. It looks to me as though some shares are bigger than others. It is important to wash it all down with a drink.Photo of hedgehogs

Meanwhile on the other side of the garden, the sparrowhawk orders a pigeon to go.Photo of sparrowhawk

Funny Looking Bird

This weekend was the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. I placed my camera trap on the bird feeders hoping to catch a wide variety of small birds. All I caught on it was this funny looking bird with a big fluffy tail.

Photo of sparrowhawkThe reason for the absence of the usual birds can be explained by the presence of the sparrowhawk. She caught another pigeon. At least it meant that I could add her to my bird count, along with wood pigeons, rock pigeons, collared doves, magpies, crow, sparrow, wren, robin and blackbirds.

 

Caught on Camera

The only photographic skill required for using wildlife camera traps, is the ability to choose a good site to place them.

When a sparrowhawk leaves a dead pigeon on your lawn, it is highly likely that she will return to finish her meal the next day. So the canny photographer will place the trap near to the bait. Then it is simply a matter of returning to a warm bed, with the expectation of a series of super shots of a sparrowhawk tucking into her meal the next day.Photo of cat with pigeon

Or you might just get a shot of a cat stealing the carcass.Photo of sparrowhawk

A grainy still taken from the video of an angry and hungry looking sparrowhawk.Photo of squirrel

And a squirrel collecting feathers for her drey.

Sparrowhawk

There has been a sparrowhawk patrolling the garden for many years. There are usually just fleeting glances or evidence of a meal partaken on the lawn. However, a few days ago I got lucky and managed to take a photograph of her.sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks are small birds of prey, their ability to manoeuvre around enclosed spaces makes them a common garden bird. They have one of the largest disparities in gender size of any bird, the females being 25% larger than the males. The males have blue-grey backs and more orange on their fronts than the females. The males tend to prey on smaller garden birds, such as sparrows (hence the name), finches and tits. The females, one of which I believe I have photographed here, are able to take larger prey such as doves and pigeons.

Illustration of Sparrowhawks

By Johann Friedrich Naumann (1780–1857). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The sparrowhawk population crashed after World War II, due to the use of organochlorine insecticides. Once these had been banned in 1975, the population recovered and they are now one of the commonest birds of prey in Europe. Let us hope that we are in time to save the bees from the pesticides that are wiping them out.

They have been blamed for the decrease in song birds since the war, but there is no scientific evidence for this. I suspect  loss of habitat and the domestic cat are more culpable. They are also disliked by pigeon racers and fanciers, although they have been found to be responsible for less than 1% of racing pigeon deaths.

Having caught their prey, the sparrowhawk will then pluck the feathers and tear it apart to eat it. The tell tale signs of a sparrowhawk picnicking upon your lawn are a circle of feathers, occasionally with a leg left in the middle. Here are the remains of the pigeon that she had been feasting upon. Small birds are usually squeezed to death in the grip of the sparrowhawk’s talons, but larger birds can be plucked and eaten alive.photo of remains of sparrowhawk meal

You can usually tell when the sparrowhawk is around, even if you cannot spot them yourself. The blackbirds and smaller songbirds will be frantically giving their alarm calls. On this occasion I noticed that the flock of pigeons that is usually sitting on the roof waiting to be fed, was circling up in the air.

Photo of pigeons circlingMedieval falconers called the male sparrowhawk a musket, from the Latin musca, meaning a fly. Later crossbow bolts and then firearms and cannons were named muskets, being small, fast and deadly. According to “The Boke of St Albans” section on hawking; the sparrowhawk (meaning the female) was suitable for a priest, but the holy water clerk could only handle the musket (the male) and famously, a kestrel for a knave. This of course is the title of the book by Barry Hines that was made into the film “Kes”. “A Kestrel for a Knave” is still in copyright, but “The Boke of St Albans” is not and can be accessed here.

Photo of Gloster sparrowhawk

Gloster Sparrowhawk [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 The British, Gloster Aircraft Company made a single seater fighter aircraft in the 1920, for the Japanese Imperial Army named a Gloster Sparrowhawk. It was designed to be launched by catapult from battleships.

I shall leave you with a quote from a song by Thomas Weelkes, an Elizabethan composer and organist at Winchester Cathedral. He was often in trouble for blasphemy and drunkeness:

A sparrowhawk proud did hold in wicked jail
Music’s sweet chorister, the nightingale,
To whom with sighs she said: “O set me free!
And in my song I’ll praise no bird but thee.”
The hawk replied, “I will not lose my diet
To let a thousand such enjoy their quiet.”