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Hawks-birds of prey?
Hawks are the ultimate predators of songbirds. It is the only forest predator in Europe that feeds mainly on small birds. Its size, shape, slender body, long tail, and short, broad wings give it the advantage over its prey. , all make it an effective songbird predator. It is equipped with long legs and claws, with three different front toes, the long needle-like claws, two of which can be used as pincers, with a shorter and thicker hind toe, the sparrow is well adapted for grasping and holding the prey. Even taking into account all these factors, sparrows often have difficulty feeding themselves, as the small birds have developed various defenses, some of which are highly effective, and only a small fraction of sparrow attacks succeed.
Sparrows kill their prey with the impact of the catch or pressing it under the foot, they are constantly crushed and stabbed by the needle like claws that can penetrate 1 cm into their prey. Larger birds cannot be killed using this technique and I have seen sparrows eat larger prey while still alive. This catch was a small songbird that was "fermented" on my lawn.
Hunting strategies and techniques
To counter the defensive strategies of songbirds, sparrows have evolved different hunting techniques that scientists have described as: short-term perch hunting, high and low, contour flying, stationary hunting, low quarters, sound hunting, and leg hunting. . It is this last technique that I had the good fortune to observe on Christmas Day.
A pair of sparrows was nesting about half a mile away in a forest. They do not nest in any type of forest. This was a deciduous forest, with open spaces around it. These birds are demanding. It is not a choice of tree species or wood size. The internal structure ideally provides ample cover, with enough open space between trunks and branches to allow for easy flight to seek out and attack prey. Dense forest would impede such an escape, forest that thins out too often would offer less cover for an ambush and would likely not be used for nesting as it would be "too open". Age and management are the main factors that determine the location of the nest and how long it will be used as such. Much like this was one of the birds that nested earlier in the year.
The Sarrowhawk in a classic posture of "short-lived perch technology", but it is open and does not try to hide. Why; This bird visited on Christmas Day...but not for the turkey! See below!
- Note that the sparrow is not looking up at the sky, as they often do when looking for small birds flying overhead. Nor, as is often the case when using this technique, does he try to hide from the birds. They usually find cover to watch the birds and then make a surprise attack. This bird shows none of that here. He hasn't read the science books! Something might have piqued his interest. I have several feeders around the garden, but birds may not be on your mind at that moment.
Providing predator cover while feeding garden birds
Kilmarnock willow, lavender bushes and flower trough interrupt a predator's line of attack
The ground feeder sits under the Kilmarnock Willow, providing cover for birds and helping to break up a direct line of attack, as well as the placement of the plant's green cavity. Lavender bushes offer the same protection with the added benefit of giving birds a chance to find shelter if attacked by a predator. The ground feeding tray provides shy birds such as the Dunnock with a feeding station away from the main bird feeding area where many of the larger birds can be found.
Other wildlife visitors
As a consequence of designing and planting my small but wildlife-friendly garden, in addition to birds, I have wood visitors and house mice. They never feed together nor have I seen them fight or visit at the same time. Both help each other put birdseed on the ground at different times of the day and easily climb onto the ground feeding tray, an ability that has many other uses besides acquiring and foraging, as you'll read about shortly.
Wood rat with a white spot under the belly. The hammer is for showing size, not for killing!! They are great climbers!
However, there is not always enough food for them, so they try other techniques to steal my bird food. This big blue plastic barrel was kept inside the garage, but a wooden rat climbed into it!
The seeds are now stored outside. Black boxes are useful for storing birdseed!
- However, some mice are simply not satisfied with seed in bird feeders or ground feeding. Somehow they still managed to climb onto the lid of the black plastic bin. I've seen them climb walls so I suspect that's what they did.
Mice started to chew on the old bin lid where I now store my birdseed
- The lid of the bucket had a lot of bite marks on it, but how did they manage to stay on the lid and not slip off?
The mice made a hole in the lid of the bin, so I attached a metal mesh over the top!
- The rats chewed through the lid completely but couldn't get in because there was no evidence inside the bin. It would be very difficult for them to get out of the small hole once carved!
Bad luck with the black bin, foraging in the grass for this pair of rats!
- The house mouse breaks the lid to get the food near the feeding tray...
Well, I cheated here, there's a small portion of peanut butter further down the road that they find irresistible!!! They don't always come when you want to photograph them!
I have noticed more and more that the sparrow visiting the garden was using the fence as an observation perch, just sitting on the fence in full view. Typically, sparrows hide and watch for birds using feeders, ponds, etc., and then launch a surprise attack. By using the binoculars I can definitely see that he was looking at the ground while he was on top of the fence. I recorded a Sparrowhawk that sat for 16 minutes just sitting and watching. It's a long time for a bird like that to be in the wild.
This sparrow found something interesting a few feet on the ground…
The black box used to store the birdseed is a few meters to the left…..
Unusual Christmas present!
I've been watching birds in my garden for many years, so when I first heardPrograma BTO Garden Birdwatch, I became a member. If my simple pleasure of watching wild birds in the garden could be used by scientists to expand their knowledge, which in turn would help those who give me that pleasure, it made sense to me! A GBW membership would make a great gift! Very occasionally in life you are lucky enough to witness a rare occurrence as it actually occurs in nature and is rarely seen by many people. I had one of those rare occasions on Christmas Day. What a great Christmas present!
Different witness hunting strategies
Christmas morning was no different than most mornings as I looked out the patio window, except I had a mince pie with my coffee! I could see a mouse moving around eating small seeds on the ground around the soil feeding tray. Nothing unusual about it though. Suddenly a hawk came flying over the garden fence and dove under where the mouse was feeding and pounced on it trying to snatch it off the ground. The fallen willow branches proved to be a barrier to this initial attack and saved the mouse from almost certain death, as they slowed the movement of the sparrows. This short period of time gave the mouse the opportunity to hastily escape, running to the nearby lavender bush, where it hid under the stalks next to the main stem and lay motionless on the ground. The sparrow ran across the ground and tried to grab the mouse with one claw as it scurried away. So he started looking for the void under the lavender branches, but got lost.
The Sparrowhawk desperately tried to grab the mouse hidden under the branches.
This second attack proved a little too close for comfort to the startled mouse, who proceeded to climb and enter the lavender bush, sitting in the middle perched on the small lavender branches. The sparrow ran to the ground around the lavender bush, tried to catch the mouse, climbed the bush by itself and used one of its paws and claws to land on it, flapping and shaking its head trying to catch the mouse in its sight, moving it. around the lavender bush and inspecting again. It really was a deadly game of hide and seek. He kept trying to read the mouse digging its claw between the lavender branches. I could see its claw opening and closing in a pincer motion trying to stab and grab the mouse with its needle-like claw. The mouse continued to move deeper into the middle, into the thickest part of the lavender bush, where it stayed away.
The Hawk stands beside the wooden planks trying to catch the mouse.
The hawk scurried across the floor to the wooden planks, as seen above, to prevent its escape, still trying to grab the mouse, which strayed further from the claw. Then the clever mouse climbed the lavender bush on the side away from the sparrow, jumped to the ground and ran under the boards, escaping. The sparrow, stayed for a very short time, looking around, around the lavender bush and flew to the fence and stayed for a few minutes, before flying away.
I witnessed a similar method of attack a few years ago. In this case, the sparrow lost the sparrows by falling on them while they were feeding on bird feeders. They flew into the 6ft wooden fence that covered my ivy a few feet away. The sparrow then dove into the ivy, close to where it had screwed most of the sparrows, clung to the ivy, and literally began "fishing" around it with one of its claws. He succeeded and flew away with a sparrow in his death grip.
Hawk eating a mouse D. Culley
The mouse attack surprised me and I always thought that only songbirds would be hunted. However, researchers have shown that young rabbits, hares and field shepherds are also eaten, albeit in small numbers. Now I can add almost (!) rats to that list! Being a wild opportunistic predator and if something is available I shouldn't be so surprised!
For more information on Sparrowhawks, see this PDF…. .GBW hawk
For more information aboutBTO Garden Birdwatchplan to go to….http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw
If you liked this article, I'm sure you'll enjoy participating in theJardim Birdwatch Design...you too can experience one of those rare wildlife moments in your life!
Refs: In addition to my own experiences, photos, observations and knowledge….
Newton I, (1986) “The Sparrowhawk”, T & A D Poyser, Waterhouses, Staffs.
Photo of Hawkeye on the fence taken by neighbor Trisha Newman. Thanks Trish!
Sparrowhawk eats a mouse from Dave Cully's excellent DVDThe Secret Life of the Hawk
EsterJanuary 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm
Our great photos. Wise guy. hhhhhhhhhhhhh
nature nurtureJanuary 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm
Marian MorrisonJanuary 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm
Nice bird, but I curse them when I see the results of killing one of our pigeons. I managed to rescue a sparrow from our garden last year, obviously a gloved hand was needed but it gave us a chance to see it in all its glory. By the way, we took our cat carrier a long way around to release it on the tether!
Looking at the pictures, the rat looks really fat, but no wonder you feed him peanut butter!!!
nature nurtureJanuary 13, 2012 at 11:04 pm
I think this mouse was pregnant and right after this photo a mouse had babies in the human mousetrap. Peanut butter was purely bait to run on wooden boards for photography. I like peanut butter too much to waste feeding rats!! They move so fast that solved the problem! Hawks kill birds and eat them to survive and feed their young. Larger birds are killed by females, especially when they have young to feed in a nest. Unfortunately, cats kill them because they hone their predatory skills, which, as they are well fed and well kept as pets, skills they no longer need, but still unnecessarily kill them.
LindaMay 18, 2016 at 12:35 pm
Lovely images! Unfortunately, my cat sometimes brings home a dead mouse or a small bird. When that happens, I put it on the table in the garden and soon the bigger birds take it. It may have been an unnecessary death for my cat, but something found it beneficial. It's the circle of life I guess 🙂
nature nurtureMay 18, 2016 at 9:35 pm
It's a tough world Linda! Thanks for sharing. G
SimonJune 29, 2019 at 6:48 pm
These 'human mousetraps are only human if the person who puts them in checks them every few hours or they could become a torture chamber! I leave an old iphone next to mine with a free motion trigger app to ping me if there's motion.
nature nurtureJune 30, 2019 at 10:04 pm
Cool Simon. Or, of course, you can place water and food inside pending sightings of the trap owner.
Faith MullenFebruary 3, 2012 at 9:25 pm
This is a great little story! Thanks!
nature nurtureFebruary 3, 2012 at 11:35 pm
I'm glad you enjoyed it, it was exciting to watch, I just hope I'll be around when it happens again to photograph it, although in the last 3 days I've captured and released in my local forest, 6 young rats.....
Judy RebeDecember 8, 2016 at 8:25 pm
I saw some kind of hawk, on our way, feeding on a mouse. I was trying to identify the type of hawk when I came across this site. Fun story. I liked. But don't think my hawk is a sparrow. Mine was the size of a roadrunner but looked like a hawk. It had a longer neck and looked more like a T than an upside down Y.
nature nurtureDecember 15, 2016 at 7:30 am
Female sparrows are much larger than males, so it could have been a female. Well done and thanks for sharing! George
Roger CrossOctober 1, 2019 at 12:12 pm
Yesterday a sparrow perched on a dogwood branch in our Twickenham yard for about forty minutes flying and scratching. It fled after a magpie came to the same tree. The same thing happened today, but only for ten minutes. Several small birds were nearby, but they were kept away from the feeders while the predator was nearby.
nature nurtureOctober 6, 2019 at 5:56 pm
I don't blame them for keeping Roger away. Be careful. Bravo George
Bobby WhiteMarch 17, 2019 at 3:55 pm
The teeth marks on your bin lid look more like rats to me – when I worked on a farm, the water supply to our pigpen was cut off by rats – when we dug it up, the plastic pipe looked exactly like this!
nature nurtureMarch 18, 2019 at 8:45 am
You can be right Bobby. I also saw rats and squirrels on the lid… Cheers George
nature nurtureMarch 18, 2019 at 8:48 am
You can be right Bobby. I saw squirrels and mice on the lid... but no mice. But hey, it wasn't me!! Bravo George
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