how often do sparrowhawks eat

How Often Do Sparrowhawks Eat? A Sparrowhawk’s Diet

Among the most abundant of all the hunting birds, sparrowhawks are small-sized birds of prey that hunt small woodland birds. More than 120 species of birds are noted to be preyed on by sparrowhawks, which leads us to the question, “how often do sparrowhawks eat?”

Also known as the Eurasian sparrowhawk, northern sparrowhawk or just sparrowhawk, these birds belong to the Accipitridae or hawk family.

Typically, adult male sparrowhawks can be distinguished by their bluish-gray-colored wings and back with orange-brown bars on their belly and chest, while the adult female and younger sparrowhawks have brown wings and back and brown bars on their underbody.

Typically, the female sparrowhawks are 25% larger compared to the male birds.

In this article, we’ll discuss all sparrowhawks and their diets, how often do sparrowhawks eat and what they eat. So, read on…

What Do Sparrowhawks Eat?

Eurasian Sparrowhawk caught a pigeon

As we mentioned earlier, sparrow hawks are predators that specialize in hunting smaller woodland birds. They take their prey by surprise, using the cover of closed areas such as dense woodlands, orchards, tree belts, hedges, etc.

In urban areas, sparrowhawks target small garden birds. They also prey on small mammals, rodents and even insects.

Birds

Typically, male sparrowhawks eat birds like sparrows, tits, buntings, finches, siskins, crossbills, robins, woodpeckers, pipits, mockingbirds and larks.

However, despite all their hunting tactics, sparrowhawks find it quite difficult to catch small and quick birds and they are successful only 10% of the time.

Most often, sparrowhawks even make do with preying on injured, sick, weak and old birds.

The female sparrowhawks are larger than the males and weigh more too. Their additional weight reduces the speed, as well as maneuverability of the female sparrowhawks and so, they tend to prey on larger targets, which are quite slow moving.

The extra weight of the females also gives them the power and strength to manage large prey. 

Typically, female sparrowhawks hunt large birds like pigeons, magpies, thrushes, starlings, jackdaws, blackbirds, partridges, bantams, pheasants, small chickens and even male sparrowhawks.

The females may even hunt fledglings often, and in the summer months, around 40% of their diet comprises young birds.

While the diet of the sparrowhawk is predominantly birds, sometimes, in the absence of birds or if they are unable to catch them, sparrowhawks may also turn to rodents and other small mammals as meal replacements.

Small Mammals and Rodents

Rodents are found in large numbers and constitute the largest portion of non-flying mammals and since they also frequent the same habitats like ground birds and passerines and are dependent on insects, seeds, etc. for food, they make excellent prey for sparrowhawks.

Sparrowhawks commonly prey on rodents and small mammals like mice, voles, moles, shrews, squirrels, rabbits, hares and bats.

However, despite being present in large numbers, rodents and small mammals only make up a very small percentage of the diet of a sparrowhawk.

This is probably because, in terms of the nutrition content, rodents and small mammals contain less protein and more fat compared to birds. While the fat may be beneficial during the winter months; however, consuming higher quantities of fat regularly can cause harm to the sparrowhawks that depend on their agility and speed to hunt down their prey.

Also, birds tend to have higher levels of vitamins except for vitamin B12. So, while eating a rodent or a small mammal may be fine occasionally when it comes to satisfying their nutritional requirements, sparrowhawks prefer eating birds.

Insects and Invertebrates

Sparrowhawk on it's kill

Insects are generally the last choice for sparrowhawks when it is the last resort and there are no birds, rodents or small mammals available to prey on.

While some sparrowhawks may eat more insects or other types of invertebrates, this is not their meal preference.

In the absence of their preferred meal, sparrowhawks make do with spiders, worms, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, moths, beetles or mealworms to keep their energy levels up so that they can continue their hunt for more substantial food of their choice.

However, the sparrowhawk does not require great skill to catch insects and other invertebrates and simply pick them from the ground, tree branches, etc., which makes these creatures perfect for sparrowhawks that have not eaten for a while and are looking for food to give them a quick energy boost.

How Often Do Sparrowhawks Eat

How often do sparrowhawks eat and what they eat depends on the sex of the bird. The male sparrowhawks are smaller in size compared to their female counterparts, which makes them more agile and faster.

Male sparrowhawks usually weigh between 40 grams to 120 grams. This means that compared to the female sparrowhawks, the male birds require less meat to fill their stomach.

Female sparrowhawks are much larger compared to the males, around 25% to even 40% bigger than the males. Female sparrowhawks require more food than males, which gives them the energy for reproduction.

And so, they prey on larger-size birds weighing around 500 grams (18 oz) or even more to support their extra weight.

Since the female sparrowhawks are larger than the males and can hunt larger prey, typically, they do not waste their energy on hunting smaller prey.

A bird like a dove or a pigeon will last the sparrowhawk for around 3 days before she needs to hunt for food again.

If there is no food, a male sparrowhawk can survive up to 2 to 3 days without food, while a female sparrowhawk can survive up to 6 days without eating.

The male sparrowhawk, on the other hand, is smaller in size and therefore hunts smaller birds such as sparrows, tits, thrushes, finches, etc. which will be sufficient for him to feed on for around 2 to 3 days.

However, during the breeding season, it is the male sparrowhawk that goes out to hunt for prey, not only for the female sparrowhawk but for the offspring too and to do this, he may need to hunt up to even 10 times in a day.

Male sparrowhawks kill birds weighing up to 40 grams to around 120 grams (1.4 oz to 4.2 oz) or more regularly, while the female sparrowhawks can hunt prey up to around 500 grams (18 oz) or more.

According to Dr. Ian Newton, the average amount of food consumed by a male sparrowhawk in a day is around 40 grams to 50 grams (1.4 oz to 1.8 oz) and female sparrowhawks on an average consume around 50 grams to 70 grams (1.8 oz to 2.5 oz). 

The number of birds required to provide this amount of food depends on the size of the sparrowhawk, but it is typically equal to around 2 to 3 sparrows a day for the female and male sparrowhawk each.

So, if you consider the total food intake of the sparrowhawks in a year, a male sparrowhawk feeds on around 36 lb (16.5 kgs) of meat per year, while the female sparrowhawk feeds on around 48 lb (22 kgs) of meat a year.

And, if you take into account a breeding sparrowhawk pair, they consume around 121 lb (55 kg) of meat together along with the offspring, which essentially is equal to around 110 wood pigeons or 600 blackbirds or 2,200 sparrows.

What Strategies Do Sparrowhawks Use to Hunt for Prey and Kill It?

Sparrowhawk

A sparrowhawk hunts by attacking its prey and taking it by surprise. The sparrowhawk generally hides in the dense vegetation and waits for its prey to approach. When the prey comes near, the sparrowhawk quickly flies out, keeping low. 

There may be a chase, where the sparrowhawk may follow its prey through the vegetation on foot or even turn upside down to grab at its prey from below. The sparrowhawk can even swoop down on its prey from high up and grab it. 

Typically, sparrowhawks use 7 modes of hunting including:

  • High soaring and stooping
  • Short-stay-perch hunting
  • Low quartering
  • Contour hugging in flight
  • Hunting by sound
  • Still hunting
  • Hunting on foot

The build and features of the sparrowhawk enable it to fly keeping very low to the ground, at very high speeds and hunt in closed spaces including its long and square-edge tail that enables it to negotiate tight turns and its blunt wings that enables it to fly through the narrow gaps in hedges, fences, etc.

Usually, small prey is killed on impact or when they are squeezed by the foot or two claws of the sparrowhawk. Any struggling prey is usually squeezed and stabbed by the sparrowhawk with its talons.

If the prey is a large-sized bird that flaps and pecks, then the sparrowhawk usually restrains its prey using its long legs, stands on top of the bird, and pulls it apart before eating it.

The Final Word

Popular for their majestic looks, speed and agility, sparrowhawks are gorgeous predatory birds. With awe-inspiring hunting skills, these avian predators have been criticized in the past as being the prime reason for the disappearance of songbirds.

However, studies have revealed the contrary and that sparrowhawks are not the sole reason for the reduction in the songbird population.

Nevertheless, today, these gorgeous predators, despite their hunting instincts, are celebrated and valuable species and are here to stay.

We hope you enjoyed this article on how often do sparrowhawks eat.

Fly high friends!