The Ultimate Guide To Sparrowhawks: Everything You Need To Know!

Are you tired of watching your beloved songbirds being hunted by sparrowhawks? Do you want to protect your feathered friends and learn more about these stunning predators?

Look no further because this ultimate guide to sparrowhawks has everything you need to know.

From their hunting strategies and unique characteristics to tips on how to coexist with them peacefully, this article will provide valuable insight into the world of sparrowhawks.

The Ultimate Guide To Sparrowhawks

What Is A Sparrowhawk?

A sparrowhawk, scientifically known as Accipiter nisus, is a small bird of prey that belongs to the family Accipitridae. This widespread raptor exhibits agile flight, primarily preying on smaller birds.

Sparrowhawks possess a robust build with short, broad wings and a long tail, these features contribute to their expertise in maneuvering through dense foliage during the hunt.

You’ll find them across various habitats, ranging from woodlands to urban gardens, adapting impressively to their surroundings.

Physical Characteristics

  • Size: Typically measures 28-39 cm in length with a wingspan ranging from 55-75 cm.
  • Appearance: Distinct sexual dimorphism—males boast a slate-grey back with orange-barred underparts, while females are larger with brown upperparts and a more subdued underbody streaking.
  • Eyes: Bright yellow eyes that are a hallmark of their keen vision.


In terms of conservation, the sparrowhawk enjoys a status of ‘least concern’, thanks largely to stable population numbers.

An estimated 35,000 breeding pairs reside in their natural territory, illustrating their prolific status.

Notable Behaviors

Sparrowhawks are solitary and territorial. Their flight is a dramatic display of acrobatics, swooping down to capture prey with sudden bursts of speed.

In your garden, you might witness the thrilling chase as a sparrowhawk zips through, pursuing its next meal.


  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Conservation Status: Least concern
  • Habitat: Woodlands to urban areas

How Many Types Of Sparrowhawk Are There?

Within the genus Accipiter, there is a variety of species that are commonly referred to as sparrowhawks.

Among these, the most renowned is the Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), present across Europe and Asia.

Distribution of the Eurasian Sparrowhawk:

  • Europe: Widespread, resident in woodland areas.
  • Asia: Extends through parts of Western Asia and East into Siberia.
  • Africa: Northern areas as a winter visitor.

The sparrowhawk family exhibits distinct size dimorphism:

  • Male Sparrowhawks: Smaller, with a more slate-grey back.
  • Female Sparrowhawks: Larger, with a brownish back.

When assessing the number of sparrowhawk types, it’s important to differentiate based on species and subspecies.

The Accipiter nisus has various subspecies regionally, adapting to local environments:

Subspecies Distribution
A. n. nisus Europe to western Siberia and Iran
A. n. wolterstorffi Canary Islands
A. n. granti Madeira and Azores
A. n. melaschistos Central Asia to Himalayas

While your focus might be on the Eurasian Sparrowhawk, it’s essential to remember that other types of sparrowhawks across the globe also bear unique characteristics and habitats.

Each type has adapted to its environment to thrive, whether in dense forests or more open landscapes.

What Does A Sparrowhawk Sound Like?

What Does A Sparrowhawk Sound Like?

When you’re tuning into the sounds of nature, the call of a sparrowhawk can be a thrilling addition.

Sparrowhawks typically emit a series of high-pitched notes that slice through the air.

Picture a sound that is sharp and somewhat plaintive; it’s distinctive from the chatter of garden birds around your feeders or the rustle of leaves.

Calls of Sparrowhawks:

  • Adult Male: has a ‘kee-wick’ call; clear and high-pitched.
  • Female & Juveniles: often utter a ‘kik-kik-kik’ sound; lower and more rapid compared to the male.

These calls serve as communication amongst sparrowhawks, especially during the breeding season.

If you hear such calls, look closely at your garden or nearby woodland—these birds may be in pursuit of prey or signaling to each other.

Identifying calls in your garden:

  • Listen for a sequence of calls; sparrowhawks often call several times in a row.
  • Watch how garden birds respond; a sudden silence or flurry of activity might follow the sparrowhawk’s call.

Remember, a sparrowhawk’s diet includes smaller birds, and their calls can cause an immediate reaction as garden birds recognize the sound of this predator.

If you supply bird food in your garden, you’re likely to attract various birds, which in turn could attract a sparrowhawk.

Their presence is a natural part of the avian hierarchy and an indicator of the health of bird populations in your area.

What Does A Sparrowhawk Look Like & What’s Their Wingspan?

Sparrowhawks are compact birds of prey with distinctive physical traits. When you observe a Sparrowhawk, you’ll notice their yellow to orange eyes, providing a sharp contrast to their plumage.

These predators boast a striking appearance with feathers that vary between males and females.

Males typically have a more vivid coloration, displaying a bluish-grey back. Their underparts are usually a paler shade, adorned with orange-brown barring.

On the contrary, females are larger and exhibit a more subdued, darker brown back, with underparts that feature a similar barred pattern.


Gender Wingspan Range
Male 56 – 65 cm (22 – 25 in)
Female 65 – 78 cm (25 – 30 in)

Males are generally smaller, with short, broad wings which are advantageous during their agile and swift flight.

In contrast, females exhibit a significantly larger wingspan which can be attributed to sexual dimorphism inherent to the species.


Sparrowhawks are known for their long tail, a feature which is beneficial for maneuverability, especially when navigating through dense woodlands in pursuit of their prey.

It’s essential to understand these characteristics to accurately identify Sparrowhawks in their natural habitat.

Their attributes are not just for show but play a crucial role in their hunting strategy and adaptation to their environment.

Where Are Sparrowhawks Most Commonly Found?

Sparrowhawks are adept birds of prey that you’ll find widely distributed across the UK and parts of Europe.

When you’re exploring the UK, these birds are nearly ubiquitous, with a few exceptions.

You’re less likely to spot them in the open landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, or in the remote areas of Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.

Your search for Sparrowhawks might lead you to woodlands, as these birds have a strong affinity for forested areas.

They appreciate the cover provided by trees for nesting and hunting. However, it’s not just deep forests where they thrive; look for them in suburban areas where gardens and small pockets of trees provide suitable hunting grounds.

While you may associate Sparrowhawks with dense, leafy habitats, these birds also inhabit open country—but usually, they’re found near edges where woodland meets open spaces.

Here’s a quick snapshot of where you can expect to find Sparrowhawks:

  • UK: Widespread, except for more barren regions like the Scottish Highlands.
  • Europe: Also widespread, favoring woodlands but adaptable to a variety of environments.

Sparrowhawks are not fans of very exposed areas, so when scanning the skies or the branches, your best chances are within or at the edge of wooded areas.

What Do Sparrowhawks Symbolize?

What Do Sparrowhawks Symbolize?

In exploring the symbolism of Sparrowhawks, you’ll find that they are often associated with dexterity and ferocity.

These remarkable birds are part of the Accipiter family and exhibit behaviors that have informed human interpretations of their deeper meaning through time.

Aggression and Territoriality: Sparrowhawks exhibit strong territorial behavior, which may symbolize your own protective instincts over what you consider yours.

These birds don’t shy away from defending their space and resources with fierce aggression when needed.

  • Family: While Sparrowhawks are solitary in nature, they do come together during the breeding season. This behavior might mirror the importance of family in your life, symbolizing unity and cooperation when it’s most necessary.
  • Behaviour: The meticulous and strategic hunting approach of Sparrowhawks, combined with their adaptability, can be a reminder of your potential to execute tasks with precision and adapt when strategies need to change.

Attributes Table

Attribute Symbolizes
Family Unity, cooperation, importance of kin
Behavior Strategy, adaptability, meticulous execution
Aggressive Valor, fearlessness, assertive action
Territorial Protective nature, personal boundaries

Sparrowhawks are also seen as a spiritual symbol of harnessing inner warrior energy, capable of being summoned in a moment’s notice.

The bird’s silent flight and sudden descent upon its target reinforce the idea of stealth and focus. They remind you to be observant and ready to take decisive action when opportunities present themselves.

What Is The Diet Of Sparrowhawks?

Sparrowhawks primarily feed on a variety of smaller birds, making them adept hunters in their natural habitats.

  • Prey Diversity: Sparrowhawks have a diverse diet that includes up to 120 different bird species such as sparrowstitsfinches, and thrushes. The smaller male sparrowhawk will often target birds like starlingsbuntings, and blackbirds.
  • Female Predation: Significantly larger than males, female sparrowhawks can handle bigger quarry, including birds that weigh up to 500 grams, such as pigeons or magpies.
  • Seasonal Variations: During summer, close to 40% of a sparrowhawk’s diet can consist of fledglings, which are young birds that recently developed the capability of flight.

While birds constitute the prime component of their diet, sparrowhawks may occasionally prey on rodents and insects, supplementing their nutritional needs especially when avian prey is scarce.

  • Hunting Success Rate: Despite their predatory skills, it’s worth noting that catching these nimble small birds is challenging and sparrowhawks succeed only about 10% of the time.

Do Sparrowhawks Have Any Predators?

Do Sparrowhawks Have Any Predators?

Sparrowhawks, while being predators themselves, do face threats from other predatory birds. Your understanding of the food chain must include the fact that even hunters can be hunted.

Here are some of the natural enemies that pose a risk to sparrowhawks:

  • Eagles: As larger birds of prey, some species of eagles have the power to prey on smaller raptors like sparrowhawks when the opportunity arises.
  • Goshawks: Being larger and more powerful, goshawks can dominate sparrowhawks and may predate on them, especially in competition for territory or food.

Apart from these birds of prey, sparrowhawks also need to be wary of:

  • Magpies: These clever birds are known for mobbing sparrowhawks, especially if they feel threatened or to protect their nests.
  • Red-tailed Hawks: In regions where their habitats overlap, the larger red-tailed hawk might pose a predatory threat to sparrowhawks.

While sparrowhawks have adapted to be agile and elusive, they are still part of a complex ecosystem where they are not always at the top of the food hierarchy.

Your awareness of their predators encourages a deeper appreciation for the balance of nature.

Where Do Sparrowhawks Nest?

Where Do Sparrowhawks Nest?

When you’re looking to identify the nesting habits of Sparrowhawks, understanding their preferred environments is key.

Sparrowhawks, known scientifically as Accipiter nisus, typically choose dense coniferous or mixed woodlands for their nesting sites. These areas offer ample cover and optimize their chances of breeding success.

Nesting Characteristics:

  • Location: Wooded areas with mature trees
  • Height: Usually nests are found mid-tree level
  • Structure: Built primarily from twigs

You’ll find that Sparrowhawks are not particularly drawn to nest boxes as other birds might be. Instead, they craft their own nests, which are often reused or refurbished year after year.

These nests are typically built by the female using twigs, and lined with bark and leaves for insulation and comfort.

Breeding Season Insights:

  • Eggs: 2-6 eggs per clutch
  • Season: April to July (breeding season)

During the breeding season, these raptors exhibit a strong attachment to their nesting area.

Sparrowhawks can be found nesting across Europe and Asia, and despite being shy and elusive, have become increasingly common in urban settings.

Gardens with mature trees can occasionally become nesting grounds, illustrating their adaptability.

When observing these birds, you’ll notice their skillful flight as they maneuver through trees, which is as much a part of their hunting strategy as it is a defense for their nests against predators.

When Do Sparrowhawks Lay Eggs?

Sparrowhawks select the spring and summer months for their breeding season, which aligns with the abundance of prey and warmer weather.

The period is marked by a flurry of nest-building activity, primarily in dense woodland settings, although urban environments are sometimes chosen by adaptative pairs.

Key Facts About Sparrowhawk Breeding:

  • Breeding Season Timing: You’ll observe that they begin their nesting process typically in spring.
  • Egg Laying: Sparrowhawks lay an average of 3 to 6 eggs, although the clutch size can vary between 2 to 7 eggs.
  • Incubation: After laying, the female takes on the sole responsibility of incubating these eggs for approximately 32 to 34 days.

Nesting Details:

  • The nests are constructed platforms of sticks and twigs, often lined with smaller twigs and bark chips for added insulation.
  • Eggs are generally smooth, glossy white or cream with a bluish hint and may have dark brown markings.

Chick Development:

  • Once hatched, the chicks, covered in downy feathers, are cared for by the female, with the male providing food.
  • The chicks are expected to fledge, or leave the nest, in about 26 to 30 days, but they continue to rely on their parents for some weeks thereafter.

It’s essential to respect their natural habitat during this critical time. If you come across a sparrowhawk nest, maintain a respectful distance to not disrupt their breeding success.

How Can I Tell If A Sparrowhawk Is Male Or Female?

Identifying the gender of a sparrowhawk is notably straightforward once you are familiar with a few key differences in their appearance.

  • Size: One of the most significant distinctions is size. Your observations will reveal that the female sparrowhawk is larger, with a wingspan ranging from 67 to 80 cm (26 to 31 in). In contrast, the male sparrowhawk is smaller, with a wingspan falling between 59 and 64 cm (23 to 25 in).
  • Coloration: When it comes to coloration, adult males typically exhibit a slate-grey color on their back and wings, while females are mainly brown. Furthermore, males have a more vibrant orange hue to their chest feathers compared to the more subtle tones present in females.
  • Juvenile Sparrowhawks: Young sparrowhawks, regardless of sex, share a dark brown upper body and display barring on their underparts. Distinguishing between juvenile males and females could be more challenging without an observable comparison of their size.

Here’s a simple breakdown to help in identification:

Gender Wingspan Upperparts Underparts
Male 59-64 cm Slate-grey Orangey chest
Female 67-80 cm Brown Subtle tones
Juvenile Similar to adults Dark brown Barring on underparts

How Long Do Sparrowhawks Live?

How Long Do Sparrowhawks Live?

Sparrowhawks, with the scientific name Accipiter nisus, are birds of prey recognized for their remarkable agility and hunting skills.

Your interest in their lifespan reflects a curiosity about the natural world. Typically, sparrowhawks live for about four years in the wild.

However, if you encounter a particularly resilient individual, it may live up to seven years or more.

Life for a sparrowhawk isn’t without its challenges, as mortality rates are high during their first year. Predation, disease, and human impact contribute to these figures.

Once they survive past this critical period, their chances of reaching a ripe older age improve.

In captivity, under the protection and care of experts, these birds can surpass their expected lifespan, celebrating up to 20 years of life.

Here’s a brief look at the age milestones you can expect in the life of a sparrowhawk:

  • First Year: Survival is a gamble, with high mortality rates.
  • One to Four Years: Prime age for breeding and hunting.
  • Beyond Four Years: Sparrowhawks that reach this age have successfully overcome numerous challenges.

Remember, factors such as habitat, food availability, and environmental conditions can influence the lifespan of these agile raptors.

Your awareness and actions towards protecting their environment can play a part in helping ensure sparrowhawks continue to grace the skies for years to come.

5 Interesting Facts About Sparrowhawks

  1. Hunting Prowess: Sparrowhawks are exceptional hunters with their peak hunting activity occurring in the early morning. They primarily target small birds, making impressive use of surprise and short bursts of speed. You might find them employing their hunting techniques in your garden, where they contribute to maintaining the ecological balance.
  2. Plumage and Size Variation: The females are noticeably larger than their males and exhibit different color patterns. While males boast grey upper parts and orange-barred underparts, females and youngsters are brown above with brown barring below. The size difference is believed to reduce competition for food between the sexes, especially during mating season.
  3. Territorial Residents: These birds are quite sedentary, often remaining in the same area throughout the year unless food scarcity drives them elsewhere. They maintain territories that they defend vigorously, especially during the breeding season, and you might observe this behavior around gardens, woods, or even barns.
  4. Dietary Diversity: Despite their preference for avian prey, Sparrowhawks won’t shy away from diversifying their diet with beetles or other small mammals, such as bats. This varied diet can sometimes include other birds of prey like kestrels or small woodpeckers and reflects the Sparrowhawk’s adaptability in their pursuit of food.
  5. Conservation Status: Sparrowhawks are classified as “Least Concern” by conservationists, though they share their habitat and sometimes compete with larger birds of prey like the Goshawk. Their widespread presence across varied environments showcases their successful adaptation and resilience as a species.