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A bird of prey that frequently hunts birds in gardens.

Photograph by: 
Paul Dibden

Sparrowhawk: the ups and downs

I find it difficult to describe the status of the sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in Dorset. It is far from common that is for sure but, that said, they are frequently seen although they can be somewhat elusive due to their hunting technique of flying silently, quickly and low along hedgerows and through gardens. During the middle of the last century, the 1950s and 60s in particular, numbers fell to dangerously low levels and this was linked to the use of DDT on farms affecting their food chain. Since DDT was banned numbers have recovered to a more secure level. There are people I have met who, amazingly I think, blame the decline of garden song birds on the rise of the sparrowhawk ... I despair sometimes!

The sparrowhawk is a resident breeding species in Dorset and there are reports for most weeks during the year but strangely reports get a bit patchy from week 19 towards the end of May until week week 29 at the beginning of July; this is obviously during the breeding season. One would perhaps expect them to be more visible whilst out seeking food for their young? I can only surmise that it is to do with a small movement away from urban gardens where they like to hunt when their prey species are feeding on nut bags and seed feeders to more remote conifer and mixed woodland plantations to breed. They will then be hunting closer to their nest and will be much harder to see. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues as data accumulates in future years.

There are reports for fifty one sites so far and many of these are in suburban settings. The Bournemouth conurbation and the Weymouth area produce a lot of the sightings but open downland sites also feature on the list. On downland they will prey on species such as linnet and meadow pipit. They do not seem to favour heathland though.

If you keep watch on your garden bird feeders during the winter months you will have a pretty good chance of adding sparrowhawk to your Dorset list.


Common Name Sparrowhawk
Scientific Name Accipiter nisus
Species Group Birds Raptors
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

The lazy flap, flap, glide flight high in the the sky

Identification Notes
  • Quick to locate bird feeding stations and raid them for prey means they can be seen in gardens
  • Amazing agility and turn of speed means they can be thriugh a garden anf out again without hardly being seen
  • When not on a hunting raid they can be seen flying high with a lazy flap-flap-glide wing beat
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Raptors