Tag Archives: Collared Dove

Garden Visitor, The Sparrowhawk

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When I put some nesting boxes in the garden I was hoping for a Robin or a Blue Tit!

The Sparrowhawk as well as being a magnificent bird is a ruthless killer and designed to hunt expertly from the air.  It tracks at great speed, darting out of cover with extreme dexterity combined with deadly accuracy to kill its prey.   It doesn’t hover, like the Kestrel or the Hawk, but relies on pace, momentum and surprise to catch its food and for this it is well designed with long slim legs, large sharp talons and a very efficient hooked beak that it uses for piercing and tearing up its prey.

The male Sparrowhawk was formerly called a musket, and the gun was named after the bird which perhaps gives a clue as to just how deadly they can be.  They are expert hunters and very fast fliers, and often make quick dashes over hedgerows or along the ground when chasing prey, which is often spectacularly captured using a downward plummet from the sky with closed wings.

Each adult Sparrowhawk will kill and consume a couple of small birds a day for themselves and when they are breeding a pair needs to catch another ten or so just to feed the chicks.  According to the RSPB there are forty thousand breeding pairs in the United Kingdom so by my calculation that is twenty thousand nests with an average of three chicks each so to feed themselves and their offspring this means three hundred thousand murders a day.  As Thomas Hobbes said in his philosophical treatise, Leviathan, ‘Life (in the state of nature) is nasty, brutish and short”.

Sparrowhawk kill 05

The Sparrowhawk – Killer in the Back Garden

Early one morning I opened the curtains and in the branch of a tree in the garden opposite was a collared dove, just sitting, minding its own business and probably making feeding plans for the day ahead.  As I opened the window it spread its wings and set off in that clumsy and not especially aerodynamic way that they have of taking to the air and started to gain height.  It hadn’t got very far however when suddenly from out of nowhere a second bird collided with it like a guided missile and there was an explosion of grey feathers.  I didn’t see it coming and neither did the collared dove but even if it had there was nothing it would have been able to do about it because it was the Sparrowhawk.

The Sparrowhawk as well as being a magnificent bird is a ruthless killer and designed to hunt expertly from the air.  It tracks at great speed, darting out of cover with extreme dexterity combined with deadly accuracy to kill its prey.   It doesn’t hover, like the Kestrel or the Hawk, but relies on pace, momentum and surprise to catch its food and for this it is well designed with long slim legs, large sharp talons and a very efficient hooked beak that it uses for piercing and tearing up its prey.

The male Sparrowhawk was formerly called a musket, and the gun was named after the bird which perhaps gives a clue as to just how deadly they can be.  They are expert hunters and very fast fliers, and often make quick dashes over hedgerows or along the ground when chasing prey, which is often spectacularly captured using a downward plummet from the sky with closed wings.  The pairs work well together as a team and to avoid competition between the two sexes, males concentrate on smaller birds, such as sparrows and tits, and females hunt larger birds including collared doves, thrushes and starlings.

After intercepting the unsuspecting bird in flight the Sparrowhawk dropped to the ground and set about preparing breakfast.  I had seen the hit but it was all so quick that it was only now that I was beginning to understand what was going on.  The killer stood on the doomed bird, who only had a matter of seconds left to wonder what hit it, and opened it wings to form a tent and spread its tail feathers to provide balance.

The wings had wonderful markings, russet brown with dark stripes and she flapped them continuously to prevent any unexpected break for escape but there was no way that this was going to happen and she  removed the wings, plucked the breast and removed the face and beak in a matter of seconds and then with the dead bird in its talons it took off and flew away at great speed probably to take it back to its nest somewhere and to feed the nest full of chicks because there is quite a lot of meat on a collared dove.

Each adult Sparrowhawk will kill and consume a couple of small birds a day for themselves and when they are breeding at about this time of the year a pair needs to catch another ten or so just to feed the chicks.  According to the RSPB there are forty thousand breeding pairs in the United Kingdom so by my calculation that is twenty thousand nests with an average of three chicks each so to feed themselves and their offspring this means three hundred thousand murders a day.  As Thomas Hobbes said in his philosophical treatise, Leviathan, ‘Life (in the state of nature) is nasty, brutish and short”.

I didn’t capture this incident on camera but a few days later the bird was back this time in the back garden and on this occassion picked up a young starling for lunch.

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Other posts about birds:

Blackbirds                                                                                                                                Collared Doves                                                                                                                            Dunnock                                                                                                                                              Fat Balls                                                                                                                                    Mozart’s Starling                                                                                                                            Robin                                                                                                                                        Starlings                                                                                                                                   Starlings in the USA                                                                                                 Vinkensetting                          ____________________________________________

Collared Doves

Collared Doves really are the most stupid of all birds.  Currently there is a pair of them trying to build a nest in the eaves of my house (X marks the spot) and, it has to be said,  failing pretty spectacularly.  After six weeks it still hasn’t occurred to them that the spot that they have chosen is completely unsuitable.  Every day they deliver beak full’s of twigs to the narrow ledge above my bedroom window and everyday it falls down onto the drive and gives me a failed nesting debris sweep-up operation.

Each morning starting at dawn they sit there cooing away to each other, stopping every now and again for an avian wing-trembler, which I have to say doesn’t look very thrilling or satisfying, and then they return to their hopeless nest building task and if, against all odds, they ever get it built I am only going to take it down anyway!

The story of the Collared Dove is an interesting one.

Only a hundred years ago, the species was found primarily on the Indian subcontinent, although its range extended slightly into Europe but certainly no further than Turkey.  In the early 1900s, however, the species began significantly expanding its range and colonised as far as France, the Low Countries and Denmark and then in 1953 reached it the United Kingdom when it was spotted in Norfolk for the first time.

Today, Collared Doves are living above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia.

The spread of Collared Doves across the United Kingdom has been very rapid. From the first breeding report in 1955 the species was subsequently reported breeding in Kent and Lincolnshire in 1957, with birds also seen as far north as Scotland.  Two years later Ireland was colonised and by 1970 there may have been as many as twenty-five thousand pairs in Britain and Ireland and between 1972 and 1976 the population increased five fold.

The Collared Dove, it turns out, is one of the great colonisers of the avian world.  After it was introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s it managed to spread to Florida in the United States by 1982.  Its stronghold in North America is still the Gulf Coast, but it is now found as far south as Veracruz, as far west as California, and as far north as British Columbia and the Great Lakes.

All of this goes to show that although they are hopeless at building nests they regardless of this they are good at breeding and pretty spectacular at colonisation.

Collared Doves are quite big birds and have a buff grey colour that makes them quite conspicuous.   Although on first site they may look uninteresting they are really quite attractive with the half collar marking on the back of the neck, a pinkish flush on the chest and really wonderful black eyes with a red ring.  This is a picture of the visitor to my garden so you can see just how close, without a massive telephoto lens,  he will let me get to him (or perhaps her, because actually I can’t tell the difference).

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Other posts about birds:

Blackbirds

Collared Doves

Dunnock

Fat Balls

Mozart’s Starling

Robin

Seagull

Starlings

Starlings in the USA

Vinkensetting

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