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Sparrowhawk: the “Ronseal” of Irish birds!

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), Male, West Cork, Ireland

Living and working in the country is often quite tranquil, but this morning the calm was shattered when this male sparrowhawk dropped in for an impromptu visit.

Suddenly the background harmony of birdsong was replaced by a cacophony of anxious alarm calls as blackbirds, swallows, house sparrows, chaffinches and tits all screamed their warnings. Trouble had arrived!

Sprawk2I glanced up from my keyboard to see this chap perched outside my office. What a bird!

The male sparrowhawk is a consummate compact killing machine. Not much bigger than a mistle thrush everything about it screams of pent up power and deadly potential. It’s fierce countenance, the piercing yellow eyes, needle-sharp talons and poised alertness deliver a package that really is the “Ronseal” of Irish bird world. The sparrowhawk, perhaps more than any other Irish bird, does exactly what it says on the tin!

Explanation for overseas readers: Ronseal is a well known outdoor wood treatment / stain brand. Their long-running advertising slogan “Ronseal: it does exactly what it says on the tin” is well known throughout Ireland and Britain.


  • Mary o neill

    We have birds of prey in our back garden and we would really like them to stay there long term! Any suggestions on how to make our garden more attractive for them??

  • I came to this site as I saw a sparrowhalk for the first time on my bird table. I live in the Gortarowey area of Drumcliffe in Co.Sligo right under Benbulben mountain and I have often seen them wheeling around over the mountain when walking my dog but it was such a delight and a surprise to see one so up close. My first time ever! I don’t think the little garden birds shared my enthusiasm though as they scattered as soon as they saw him!

  • carmel casey

    I absolutely hate them. I am plauged by them, one got so many birds from my garden that I felt like his local surermarket. They do every thing you said. This guy done the quick over the hedge bit and the hiding in the garden bit.
    And now there is another one . So now I’m in the process of making my garden once again anti-sparrowhawk.
    Nature is a savage, savage thing and the only thing to recommend it is the visual. It looks spectacular.

    • Avatar photo

      Thanks for the comment carmel.

      Sparrowhawks kill birds… it’s what they do. They do not, however, have a significant detrimental impact on small bird populations — not according to the science anyway — nor are they in any way cruel or malicious — they just need to eat, much as you or I do… or indeed its unfortunate victims.

      The simple truth is that if you encourage a super-abundance of small birds by offering a ready supply of food, then you’ll naturally attract predators. I’m not suggesting you stop feeding the birds… far from it. Feeding the birds is a good thing, and you help far more to survive even if the occasional unlucky few are taken by a sparrowhawk.

      Sparrowhawks are natural Irish predators, and small bird populations have evolved to deal with the predation pressures exerted by them. Far more damaging are domestic cats, which thanks to us occur in far greater densities than nature could possibly support, and which can cause all sorts of problems for our native wildlife.

  • maria hanrahan

    I’m in east Galway. for a few weeks we had some young rabbits resident in our garden. one day my son and i were watching the rabbits clean themselves. out of nowhere a male sparrowhawk dived down on them.he took one rabbit on that turn and we suspect he returned later for the other as it was gone that evening. it was over in seconds but i’m so happy that we were so lucky to see nature at work. i’ll prob never be lucky enough to see that again. i feel priviliged.

    • Avatar photo

      Lucky indeed Maria… it must have been an amazing thing to witness. Unusual too. Sparrowhawks tend to be small bird specialists and rarely hunt small mammals. I’ve never heard of one tackling a rabbit before… even a baby one. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • I love your description about the Sparrowhawk.We have one visit the bird table, they all scatter,trying to hide in the hydranga,sometimes it’s got a fellow bird, but that’s nature.

    • Avatar photo

      Thanks for the comment Janet. I heard the commotion outside, looked up from my keyboard and there he was in all his fierce glory looking right at me. Fantastic bird.

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