Hawks, definitely not Doves!

As teenagers in a local bird group my mate and I would occasionally get a call to collect an injured bird that someone had found. On one such occasion we went round to pick up an unknown bird described vaguely as a dove or was it a cuckoo, anyway we went armed with a box and a towel, to pick-up what seemed like a fairly innocuous bird. On arriving we were led to a closed living room door and told the bird had got loose as we opened the door a pair of piercing yellow eyes glared at us, we both let out an expletive and looked at each other saying “it’s a bloody Sparrowhawk!”  Such was the reputation of the bird; it was no dove or cuckoo. Somehow we managed to get the towel over it and bundle it into the box, without too much bloodshed and took it to a couple we knew well, who looked after injured birds.

The fearsome reputation of the Collared Sparrowhawk and the larger Brown Goshawk is well deserved, especially among garden birds in Denmark, such as honeyeaters. Whilst the alarm calls for Kookaburras, Ravens and even Little Eagles or Kites is uttered by a few birds in what seems like a fairly controlled manner, in the case of a Collared Sparrowhawk or a Brown Goshawk, it is loud and uttered by every bird in mild panic. They are bird hunters! Evolution has crafted them superbly: they have large eyes – their eyesight is about five-times better than our own, their wings are relatively short and rounded and they can fly through gaps in the woodland foliage not much bigger than their body by folding-in their wings, they have long legs to grasp prey and long talons that pierce the victim’s body and a sharp beak with which to butcher its prey. Like many raptors the power is in their legs and prey is killed by crushing and piercing their victim. They are also cunning, often hiding themselves near an area they know to be frequented by small birds, such as a watering hole or a feeding place in order to ambush them.

The adults of each species and of each sex are similar and can be quite difficult to tell apart. The Collared Sparrowhawk is much smaller than the Brown Goshawk, and the male is also much smaller than the female in both species. It is thought that the extra weight is required by the female for maintaining condition during the breeding season. Conversely the male is smaller, leaner and more agile making it a better hunter to meet the requirements of the female and young.

The male goshawk is very similar in size to the female sparrowhawk, but there are a few subtle differences in addition to size, (which can often be difficult to assess without a reference); the goshawk has a fiercer look with a more pronounced brow, a rounded tip to its tail and sturdier legs. The sparrowhawk has a more elongate middle toe (good luck spotting that!) and slender legs.

So listen-out for loud alarm calls from your local honeyeaters, there could be a killer on the wing!

Brown Goshawk
Brown Goshawk
Brown Goshawk, Head
Brown Goshawk, Head
Brown Goshawk, feet
Collared Sparrowhawk with dove