Hawks help weed out the weakest in garden
SPARROWHAWKS are well-named. 98 per cent of this small hunter's diet comes from small birds. Next to the neighbourhood's cats, the local sparrowhawks will be the species responsible for the largest number of casualties amongst your garden's birds.
From birds as small as blue tits to those as large as collared doves, the sight of a sparrowhawk is enough to chill the blood. Unfortunately, for many this sighting comes too late as sparrowhawks are expert hunters, capable of fast acrobatic flight and canny enough to use our garden trees, shrubs, houses and sheds to shield their approach. Despite their ruthlessness, sparrowhawks deserve our admiration, not our condemnation. Your neighbourhood sparrowhawk may spread panic amongst garden birds each time it swoops through looking for a meal. But it also provides a much-needed service, picking off the less agile and least healthy stragglers from the bird table. Sparrowhawks are just one part of the unforgiving process of nature, a process which ensures only the fittest survive.
Besides, recent reports from the British Trust for Ornithology suggest that sparrowhawks are fulfilling another role in our garden ecosystems. Long-tailed tits line their moss-built nests with the downy feathers of other birds. The feathers provide wonderful insulation in which to brood their eggs and raise their chicks. But where to get the 2,600 feathers needed for each nest? This is where the sparrowhawk comes in. After catching its victim it will often take it to a favourite perch and begin plucking – removing the captured bird's feathers to reveal the energy-rich flesh beneath. Long-tailed tits know this and take advantage of the gift of these discarded feathers.
For more on your local wildlife visit www.devonwildlifetrust.org
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