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Sparrowhawks absent from gardens this winter

Posted 16 Feb 2017

Sparrowhawks are most frequently seen in gardens during the autumn and winter months, a time when numbers are swelled with juveniles and when the smaller birds they prey on are flocking into gardens to feed.  January 2016 saw the highest average counts of Sparrowhawk for the time of year but since summer 2016 numbers have been abnormally low, according to Garden BirdWatch. They were only seen in 8% of gardens in December, well below average and a 5% reduction on December 2015.
We suspect that this decline is linked to the wet weather in June. This resulted in a poor breeding season for many smaller birds, on which Sparrowhawks will feed, such as Blue Tits and Great Tits. With fewer young birds around there would have been less available food to feed their own chicks, potentially leading to lower survival in young Sparrowhawks. They may also have been directly affected by the wet weather.

Sparrowhawks are not always popular garden visitors, as they feed on other garden birds. Their population crashed in the 1950s and 1960s due to pesticide poisoning, but numbers have since  recovered, and they are the bird of prey most commonly seen in gardens.

by Simon Byland