Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus

Names

English: Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Scientific: Accipiter nisus
German: Sperber
Spanish: Gavilán común
French: Epervier d'Europe

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Forms a superspecis with the Madagascar Sparrowhawk Accipiter madagascariensis, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris, and possibly with the Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus. Maybe even conspecific with Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk.

6 subspecies [GRIN 2009, Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Three of those subspecies occur in Europe:

  • A. n. nisus allmost all of Europe
  • A. n. wolterstorffi on Corsica and Sardina
  • A. n. granti on Madeira and Canary Islands

Size

Length: 28-38 cm
Wingspan: Males 58-65 cm, Females 68-77 cm
Weight: Male 110-196 g, Female 185-342 g

Maximum Age

20 years in the wild. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Nests in forests but also in parks and even gardens in some areas. Nests are often found in 20-40 year old coniferous trees like spruce or larch but in some regions, Eurasian Sparrowhawks also breed in deciduous forests [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Hunts in forests, gardens and open country where there is some cover like hedgerows. During winter, more often in villages and cities. During winter, many people feed birds and this often leads to a concentration of many songbirds at feeding places, which attracts the Sparrowhawks.

Distribution

Almost everywhere in Europe, except Iceland and some parts in the very north of Scandinavia. Outside of Europe, eastwards through Asia to the Pacific Ocean and Japan. One subspecies (A.n. melaschistos) isolated in the Himalayas and mountains of central Asia [GRIN 2009, Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Migration

Birds from northern Europe are migratory. Many Sparrowhawks from central Europe stay in the breeding areas. Other individuals, especially juvenile birds,migrate south-west to France or the Iberian Peninsula [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Breeding and Reproduction

Sparrowhawks can breed with the age of 10 months but often won't breed before 2 or 3 years old because they need to find a suitable territory [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. They prefer breeding on conifers like spruce or larch.
The average clutch size is 3-6 (in rare cases only 1 or two or up to 7) [Newton 2008]. Breeding time is between 31 and 36 days. Males leave the nest after about 26 days but the (considerably larger) females need 30 days. After fledging, the adults provide food for the young for another 3-4 weeks before the young Sparrowhawks start hunting successfully themselvers [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Food and hunting

The most important prey are birds. Small mammals like voles are also taken, especially during spring [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. The much smaller male hunts birds up to the size of Great Spotted Woodpeckers or thrushes. The larger female can hunt birds up to the size of pigeons or jays. Important prey species are birds like Great Tits, Chaffinch, House and Tree Sparrows, Starlings or Blackbirds. The bird species most often killed depend on local availability.
Sparrowhawks hunt by surprise using bushes, hedgerows or buildings as cover to surprise their prey.
Eurasian Sparrowhawks can also become prey themselves. Northern Goshawks sometimes kill Eurasian Sparrowhawks.

Population

Overall, a rather common raptor in many areas. European populations estimated at 340,000 to 450,000 breeding pairs [BirdLife International 2004]. The largest populations are found in Russia with 160,000 - 180,000 pairs. In Sweden, there are about 15,000 - 20,000, in the UK ca. 40,1000. France has 26,600 - 42,600, Spain has 6,000 - 10,000 pairs and Finland between 12,000 and 15,000 pairs [BirdLife International 2004].
For Germany [Mebs & Schmidt 2006] give a number of ca. 18,400 pairs and for Austria, more than 8,000 pairs. The populations are stable or increasing in most countries [BirdLife International 2004, Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Threats

On a European scale, the Eurasian Sparrowhawk is currently not threatened, but some threats are still a problem. Pesticides can have a negative effect. Either be affecting the birds themselves or by reducing songbird populations which can have a negative effect on Sparrowhawks. DDT or other problematic pesticides are now illegal and Sparrowhawks have recovered since DDT was forbidden, but at least some is still left in the environment.
Illegal killing is no longer a serious problem [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Forestry operations , especially thinning of the young trees where Sparrowhawks build their nests, can destroy eggs and young birds.
The decline of many songbird populations, for example because of intensive agriculture, may have a longterm negative effect on bird eating raptors like Eurasian Sparrowhawks.

Conservation

Forestry operations should be avoided during the breeding season. The level of pesticides should be monitored in Sparrohawk populations.
Pesticide usage should be reduced to a minimum or avoided completely (like in organic farming).
Agricultural practices that support large numbers of songbirds can also benefit bird eating raptors like Eurasian Sparrowhawks.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk

References

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Eurasian Sparrowhawk species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/BirdsInEuropeII/BiE2004Sp3455.pdf

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 9 Sep. 2009

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel. 2006. Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

[Newton 2008] Newton, Ian. 2008. Highlights from a long-term study of Sparrowhawks. British Birds, Vol. 101, November 2008.

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

IGS (2008). Interessengemeinschaft Sperber (IGS, Hrsg). Der Sperber in Deutschland. Books on Demand, Norderstedt.

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Eurasian Sparrowhawk

GRIN species account for the Eurasian Sparrowhawk