Saturday, February 02, 2008

The kill

We've just watched a death in the garden. At last, the young male Sparrowhawk has caught something (well, I'm saying 'the' Sparrowhawk but it's likely that there are several that visit).

He'd been in the garden a couple of times earlier but went away empty-taloned. I missed the moment the hawk caught hold of a Blue Tit, but I saw him 'mantling' it on the ground (wings and tail spread to hide the prey from prying eyes). He looked slightly puzzled, as if he was thinking what to do next, but then started to pluck it, and a cloud of grey, blue and yellow feathers wafted around.

He looked wary and soon flew off to consume his kill somewhere more secluded. It wasn't long before Blue and Great Tits returned to their usual activity in and around the bush where the kill had taken place. People often say that birds don't come to their gardens after a Sparrowhawk's been but that wasn't the case here.

They also say that they feel guilty about attracting the small birds to a place where a predator can kill them, but I don't really feel that. It's true that the Sparrowhawk wouldn't have been in the garden unless the tits were there, which wouldn't have been there in those numbers if I wasn't feeding them.

By offering an artificial source of food, aren't I boosting the chances of survival of the tits and the hawks? It must be easier for a Blue Tit to grab a sunflower seed from the feeder than to spend a longer period of time searching for natural food in a woodland. Equally, it's probably more efficient for the Sparrowhawk to pay a flying visit to a garden, where it knows there will be food available, than spending time dashing up and down hedgerows.

Am I sad about the Blue Tit? Hmmm... I felt a little bit sorry for it. I saw it lying dead under the toes of the hawk, when seconds earlier, it had been flying around.

However, I feel pleased for the Sparrowhawk. It deserves congratulation for making a kill. The BTO BirdFacts page says that juvenile Sparrowhawks have a 61% chance of dying in their first 12 months of life (for Blue Tits it's 62%).

Having watched them a number of times in our garden, it's easy to see that hunting small birds is not straightforward and they are usually unsuccessful. If a hawk can't catch its prey, it's going to starve.

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece