Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Sparrowhawk disturbed at Magpie kill

I had to do the school run pick-up on foot this afternoon, so I popped my camera into my backpack just in case. As soon as I was out of the door it started spitting with rain, and as the leaden skies darkened I was regretting the extra weight.

As it turned out taking the DSLR was a good decision... I was cutting through a narrow lane when suddenly I heard an urgent rasping call. Right behind me there was a Sparrowhawk pinning a Magpie to the ground. For a few seconds the Magpie was twisting and fluttering to get free, all the time making the same distraught call. The Sparrowhawk was fully in control with one set of talons fixed to its prey's head and the other holding a wing. The hawk mantled its wings over its prey and then started to pluck the Magpie's breast and in a few moments the prey was quiet.

By now the Sparrowhawk had started plucking and I slowly crouched to try to get some steady shots in the poor light. I knew I only had a few minutes before I would have to continue on my way but I thought I would be able to get some record shots of the hawk starting to feed.
Unfortunately, at that moment another pedestrian appeared - arghhh... what terrible timing. What's more, they didn't seem very interested by the sight, in fact they were clearly revolted and just wanted to get past as quickly as possible. Given the narrowness of the lane, it was clear that this would flush the raptor and of course it did. The Sparrowhawk picked up its prey and headed off down the path although it was struggling to remain airborne.

Now I suppose that this hawk was unlucky that its prey did not fall either side of the walls running along this path, in which case it could probably have fed on a lawn undisturbed. On the other hand with the number of people constantly moving around a city like Edinburgh I cannot help but feel that this type of disturbance must be a commonplace and maybe daily event in the lives of our suburban birds.

From these shots, the bird looks to be in its 3rd calendar year. Its tail in particular has several brown retained juvenile feathers, the tips of which are showing severe abrasion. As for sex, the bird appears to be a female: the upperparts are not grey enough for a male; the cheeks show some rufous brown streaking rather than solid rufous; the supercilium is extensive above the eye; the barring on the breast is dark rather than rufous; the bird is bulkier than the Magpie.

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