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Sparrowhawk Technique ....?

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  • Sparrowhawk Technique ....?

    Is this 'normal'? I've just this minute come round a corner of the track to spot a swirling flock of c. 100+ starlings / thrushes (?) Too distant and all over too quickly for me to make them out. Right up in the sky though.

    But, there was no mistaking the Sparrowhawk! It seemed to be almost part of the flock. Then, the flock was off across the sky and the hawk went to a close by ~ to it ~ tree. I can only assume it got one then.

    Only, I've never seen, or even heard of, this method of hunting before. Thought Spar's were more given to the cruise missile approach than ground to air.

    Anyone ....?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Ditch View Post
    Is this 'normal'? I've just this minute come round a corner of the track to spot a swirling flock of c. 100+ starlings / thrushes (?) Too distant and all over too quickly for me to make them out. Right up in the sky though.

    But, there was no mistaking the Sparrowhawk! It seemed to be almost part of the flock. Then, the flock was off across the sky and the hawk went to a close by ~ to it ~ tree. I can only assume it got one then.

    Only, I've never seen, or even heard of, this method of hunting before. Thought Spar's were more given to the cruise missile approach than ground to air.

    Anyone ....?
    Yep.




    Owen

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    • #3
      I'll be blowed! Cheers, Owen; That's exactly like what I saw.

      Just goes to show; We're never too old to learn

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Ditch View Post
        I'll be blowed! Cheers, Owen; That's exactly like what I saw.

        Just goes to show; We're never too old to learn
        They are actually very gifted hunters, which adapt a variety of hunting styles to suit their needs. The slow glide at a starling flock is something I have seen myself, but not every sprawk can do it I suspect. Some seem to be able to overcome the distracting nature of the swirling mass, plan a trajectory that takes them through it, and snatch whatever flys by them, as opposed to attempting to single an individual out from the horde.

        Reminiscent of the way hobbies and red footed falcons hunt dragonflies.

        Edit: Though that said, despite the title of the film, I actually think the raptor in that one is a falcon.

        Owen
        Last edited by pariah; February 22nd, 2012, 05:08 PM.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by pariah View Post
          ..... plan a trajectory that takes them through it, and snatch whatever flys by them.

          Yes. I should imagine that's what this one of mine was doing. It was all a bit quick for me. I first spotted the hawk seemingly hanging amidst the flock. Then, they wheeled away and the spar', like I say, went to a tree.

          I remember thinking at the time though; " How come she isn't coming at them like an arrow? " It was more like slow motion, to be honest. That's the impression it gave, anyway.

          What a stroke of luck, eh? If I'd be two steps later ....?

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          • #6
            Not a sparrowhawk

            The bird of prey in the starling video looks like a merlin to me. A sparrowhawk hunting like this would be unusual and also there would be much more of panic reaction from the starlings. Merlins frequently use passerine mimicking flight (particularly the smaller males) to approach passerines. The video isn't typical though for merlins- the mimic flight is usually more akin to a mistle thrush (rapid fluttery wing beats then a glide with wings partially closed). But merlins are very adept at a whole variety of attack styles. Of all the raptors I have studied hunting merlins seem the most flexible from stoop hunting, to endurance pursuits, to surprise grabs like sparrowhawks, to running on the ground like caracaras to catch crouching skylarks. So I am not surprised that a merlin might try to join a flock of starlings in this way. Sparrowhawks, by the way, can be flexible in hunting but 84% of attacks (N=690) in an observational study I did in East Scotland in the early 90s were your typical by surprise dashes out of concealing cover with negligible duration chases. 13% were "open" non-surprise attacks with longer chases - I would classify this video in this category (if it was a sparrowhawk and if I actually saw evidence of an attack which isn't there in this video). Of 301 merlin attacks, I only classified 10% as "open" non-surprise attacks, so they also favour a surprise approach. But with merlins, their chases are often legendary in length - particularly when hunting skylarks. I have seen several hunts focused on a single bird each time lasting over 10 minutes. So the chance of seeing a merlin engaged in the more open pursuit type of hunt is greater even though they don't actually do too many of them. Usually a raptor is only a danger to itself so they take it easy during hunts, engaging in surprise short attacks. but all the rules change when a raptor is hungry or has chicks to feed and then they may carry out ridiculously protracted, unusual or dangerous hunts to secure a meal.

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            • #7
              Hmm. Perfectly feasible that my bird indeed was a Merlin, Will'. I'd have no problem with that. We get them both around here.

              And, with the brief, distant and distracted glimpse I got of the hawk ~ I was taking a lot in, in a brief moment there. As interested in what the flock were and how many as anything ~ I just assumed spar' as they appear to be marginally more common.

              I had no intention of recording the sighting anywhere and was simply fascinated by the sight of a hawk amidst a 'bird cloud'. I'd love to see it again. That much I do know. Be a belter to be able to watch it properly.

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              • #8
                Merlin or sparrowhawk

                Sorry Ditch I wasn't implying your hawk was a merlin, just the one in the video. Just because a species does something typically doesn't mean an individual can't do something out of the ordinary. Sparrowhawks do unusual things - for example I have seen one hovering brieflyover a crouching skylark. I find watching raptors hunt the most exciting bit of birding I might do in a day - I am lucky to do it as part of my research as well, but I started as a birder. I started watching hobbys hunt as a teenager in Cambridgeshire when there were no sparrowhawks there. Glad they are back now and in every garden, every day livening things up.

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                • #9
                  Nothing to be sorry about, Will', implications or otherwise I've learned some cool stuff out of all this.

                  And the days back when ....? Yep. I remember them well! Sparrowhawk was a thing of legend and fantasy, wasn't it? Back when even the Red Backed Shrike was so recently gone that one could dream; The spar would get ye laughed at.

                  Now, as ye say, the buggers are ubiquitous. Keeping the pool clean, as they're invented for.

                  Like I say; My bird could as likely been a Merlin. But, my guts say those primaries were too 'feathered'.

                  Then again though; What ever it was was virtually doing a tail stand, in mid air. In the middle of a flock of Starlings. God. To have caught That on camera!

                  I just feel great, to have seen it. A bird of prey amidst a swarm of prey. Something else!

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