Dying Light

Tuesday evening and with the light fading rapidly, I took a look out of my office window. Down below there was a bird on the sundial with its back to me – looking a bit like a slim Pigeon. It took me a few seconds to realise that it was anything but a Pigeon. I grabbed the camera and headed down to the kitchen window. Here, I was able to confirm that the bird on the sundial was a bird of prey, a Sparrowhawk male…

…and it was eating a kill. Apologies for the quality of the shot but it was taken through the window and with not much daylight left.

After the Sparrowhawk had finished its meal and departed, I went out into the garden to try and ascertain what species of bird had died but, with only some brown primary wing feathers left, I had to assume that it was possibly a House Sparrow. The next day, although the birds returned to the feeder, they were very skittish and quickly flew away at the least disturbance. Today they seem to have regained their confidence.

Observations over the last two days have allowed me to re-evaluate that ‘Sparrow’ identification. I now think the victim was one of the Robin’s that were maintaining a breeding territory in our garden and the other adjacent properties. I have only seen one Robin since Tuesday and I have to assume that the other is dead.

While this is sad, I must wear my RSPB conservation hat. Birds of Prey have to eat and catching prey often enough to stay healthy is hard. In conservation terms, Sparrowhawks have Amber status, so they are at risk. House Sparrow’s have Red status – so we really can’t afford to be losing any of those (except perhaps to a natural predator like a Sparrowhawk – this does not include the neighbours Cat☹️). Robin’s are Green – they have a healthy and stable population. So, if it was a Robin, and I’m now pretty sure it was, then that was a better option than a Sparrow. You can read all about Bird Conservation Status in the UK on the RSPB site.

The male Sparrowhawk in my garden is quite a mature bird judging by the orange colour of his eyes – apparently they are greenish-yellow in a young bird and turn orange as the bird matures. Sparrowhawks have an average live expectancy of 4 years but can live to 20. Many Robin’s die in their first year but those that survive can live a long time – the oldest recorded was 19 years.


  1. Fascinating observation, Martin, and that you were able to capture a photo, is just remarkable timing. The food chain drama always grabs me, but I’m still sorry about the Robin. I, too, love observing the natural world and this was really interesting. I’ve never seen a sparrow hawk!

    1. I’m sorry for the Robin’s too Debra – The loss of a partner at this stage of the breeding season means that, unless another Robin moves into the established territory very quickly, there will be no chicks this year. There is an adjacent territory – I’ve seen several threat displays at the boundary, so hopefully another family will be successful a few gardens down the road 👍

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.