Friday, 1 April 2011

Evening sparrow hawk

Whilst driving along the back roads from Wells to Glastonbury I disturbed a sparrow hawk sitting in the hedge by the roadside. The road was bordered by two high hedges and as the bird dropped into the road in-front of the car it set off away from me at the same speed. I was able to watch it flying just ahead of me at about 20 miles an hour for about half a mile. It turned the corners in the road effortlessly and although astonishingly fast seemed very unflustered by my presence as it skimmed along the side of the hedge. It finally bounced up over the hedge, much as a surfer might pop out of the top of a wave at the end of a ride, and gained high as it headed out across the field. I stopped the car and watched it disappearing in the autumn light with a very clear sense of just how deadly, silent and well tuned a sparrow hawk is for the hunting of the ever wary and vulnerable small hedgerow birds.

I remember reading an article about how inventive Victorian problem solvers used sparrow hawks to rid the then new Crystal Palace of pesky pigeons. I myself have seen a pigeon dispatched by a sparrow hawk in my own garden, hit from above in an explosion of feathers. I understand that pigeons have evolved to be able to loose feathers automatically in such a situation, perhaps in the hope that, much like squids and ink, the predator will be confused briefly and allow for an escape ?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, sounds like an amazing sighting. I have only ever had passing glimpses of sparrowhawks, one exactly as you describe, all speed and feathers in the garden. They are adapted to fly at high speeds in forests, manoeuvring between trunks as they pursue smaller birds so the wide space of a road between hedges must have been an easy proposition, even with you in pursuit!