It’s just over a month since I reported the death of a Robin in our garden. It was a sad loss but also an acceptable one as the killer was a Sparrowhawk. At the time that Robin was one of a pair that were prospecting nesting sites in my garden and in those belonging to close neighbours. Although they were looking to set up their nest, they were also having to defend their territory at the junction of my garden’s eastern corner against another Robin territory to the south and east. I saw lots of displays between the birds – posing to show off as much of their orange breasts as possible to intimidate the neighbours. Sometimes these disputes become actual war zones and it is not unknown for one Robin to kill another. Fortunately, it never got that far – just lots of posturing. Then the Sparrowhawk struck… 😱

I went out in the garden during the dusk period that night and found two Robins flitting around in my Pyracantha bush. They were totally spooked – eye’s out on stalks and I was not bothering them at all. Hell, I could have been a tree for all the attention they were paying me! Then they went their separate ways and I was left to myself. And that was the pattern for the next few days – no Robins to be seen in the garden.

Slowly, things changed. I saw a solo Robin drifting in to the feeder and promptly diving back out again. This bird was from the south and east territory. The boldness grew over the following week and the visits became regular. By the middle of last week, when I went to replenish the feeders, a Robin was picking up seed from the ground below and not in the least bit bothered by my presence – I noted that it was collecting seed rather than feeding so that means the partner was sitting on the nest👍

My original pair disappeared after one of them was killed and the other pair have taken the opportunity to annex the feeding area originally outside of their territory. Nature abhors a vacuum and new living opportunities spring from the passing of previous incumbents. In memoriam for our lost family here is a photo of one of the ill-fated pair of Robins taken back in January…

Robin

…I don’t know if this individual was the Sparrowhawk’s victim but, in a way both members of the pair were victims – one killed and the other forced to find a new home.

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.