The Sparrow-hawk (Accipiter nisus), Fig. 38, a Raptorial bird and type of the sub-family Accipitrinae, is one of the commonest of British hawks. The male is about 12 in. in length, while the female is 2 1.2 to 4 in. longer. The upper part of the body of the male is of a bluish-slate colour, under-part brown or greyish-brown, with bars of darker colour. The female is brown in the body, and the under-parts light grey with brownish bars. In both the male and female the beak is blue and the legs and feet yellow. The wings are short, and the bird has a peculiar flight. High up in the air, propelled by its wings, it skims along for a while without their motion, but when in pursuit of prey it darts down with astounding velocity, even through trees and underwood, upon a wood-pigeon, sparrow or other bird, and swoops down on young partridges and pheasants, pigeons and chickens in the stackyard and poultry yard, fearless of man.

The sparrow-hawk builds a nest of sticks in trees, usually in oak or fir, and in the depth of woods. The eggs, rounded, bluish-green with shades or spots of brown, are five or six in number, and laid at the beginning of May. When the young hawks are in the nest the parent birds hunt early and late, and at this time partridge, pheasant and poultry rearing is at its height and the toll taken by the sparrow-hawk renders the gamekeepers and poultry man's or woman's work unprofitable. At other times the sparrow-hawk hunts for food about dusk, when young partridges may be safe under the hen, young pheasants in their coops or under their foster-mothers, and chickens under similar protection be safe from attack; but even then no opportunity, under the pressing demands of hunger, is lost of swooping down upon small hares and rabbits, young partridges and pheasants, chickens and pigeons. Though termed sparrow-hawk, it does not confine its attention to sparrows, but kills many kinds of small birds, such as chaffinches and other finches, blackbirds, thrushes, titmice, and wrens, hence injurious to some extent in that respect, and this counterbalances its beneficence in destroying wood-pigeons, which in some districts are a fearful pest to the farmer and gardener.

The sparrow-hawk also feeds at times upon mice, grasshoppers, cockchafers, and even frogs. Not infrequently this bird is mobbed by smaller birds such as swallows, and even then a victim is seized and taken off in triumph. The sparrow-hawk is sometimes tamed and kept in gardens for the purpose of frightening birds; but it usually attracts them to mob it than they to be driven away.

The Sparrow Hawk.

Fig. 38. - The Sparrow-Hawk.