Nov 5, 2008

Bird of the Week – Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrhocephalus

This glum-looking Collared Sparrowhawk, Accipiter cirrhocephalus, has been hanging around my back yard over the past few weeks - most likely lured in by the Zebra Finches,

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrhocephalus
Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrhocephalus

This glum-looking Collared Sparrowhawk, Accipiter cirrhocephalus, has been hanging around my back yard over the past few weeks – most likely lured in by the Zebra Finches, small Honeyeaters and other birds that crowd in for the water in the backyard. Here he, and I’m pretty sure it is a he – like many raptors Sparrowhawks are sexually size dimorphic – the female Sparrowhawk is described as “much larger” than the male, is having a drink at a pool of water caused by a sprinkler left on for too long. He would be a first or second-year bird – adult Sparrowhawks have a beautiful rufous flush on their underparts and around the neck.

I watched this bird just after dawn last Saturday as it came in to the neighbour’s backyard for its morning wash in the bathtub he has set up there for the hordes of finches and small birds that also visit his yard. I can always tell when a raptor is about – the cacophonous morning chorus goes silent in a second at the first showing by the hawk, then those few brave enough to challenge the intruder emerge to harry and scold it away.
A flying raptor can sometimes be first seen more by the attendant posse of outraged birds, particularly now in the breeding season, chasing and harrying it away from anywhere near a nest. A bird sitting in a tree, perhaps preening and cleaning its bill and feet and ensuring the correct order of its feathers before flight, will be the subject of swooping harassment and close, raucous attendance by even the smallest of birds.

And so it was last Saturday morning. As the hawk gingerly made it’s several attempts to clamber down the handle of the rake thoughtfully placed to allow access to the water a Willie Wagtail made repeated kamikaze swoops at its head and body, tail and wings flared in anger.

Between caution because of new and dangerous circumstances and the harassment from the small Rhipidura the hawk managed a few brief dips into the green water in the tub – I’m sure it would have preferred clear flowing water over gravel – much like Peregrine Falcons do – but the murky green water was all that was available.

Soon the hawk flew clumsily to a branch, wet and with feathers askew. It perched there for ten or so minutes, occasionally checking me and then returning to the necessary maintenance tasks after bathing.

The small birds remembered the murderer in their midst and a small squadron fell from the sky to drive the intruder away from my sight. I’ve not seen him since but I keep listening for silence.

Do you have a raptor or bird experience to share – or a comment about this bird or my words – send me a short comment or pass this post on to someone who might. Thanks in advance, Bob Gosford

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4 thoughts on “Bird of the Week – Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrhocephalus

  1. Welcome back, beautiful stranger | Berowra backyard

    […] The fact that they’re partial to a snack on introduced birds like sparrows, starlings and newly hatched chickens (gulp!) may be one reason why they’re considered “of least concern” to people who […]

  2. grahame

    There’s a small but growing population of Brown Goshawks in the Maylands/Bayswater area of Perth. This week I was walking down the train line at around two in the afternoon when I saw a goshawk being harried by a pair of Australian Ravens. I’ve been informed that the ravens know that a sufficiently hassled raptor will vomit up its crop, providing a free meal.

    Provided an interesting few minutes watching – wish I’d had binos, as they were fighting quite high up.

  3. Robert Gosford


    Thanks for the compliments on the pic. This bird has just returned after a week or so away and was flying from tree to tree in my yard this afternoon – harried by a WW the whole way.
    We don’t have chooks but if we did I know we’d have to take some substantial measures to protect them – I did some volunteering a few years ago at the Desert Park in Alice and they had a Brown Goshawk that they (then) had relocated to about 100km away several times – it just made its way back and sat outside the finch houses waiting for one of the estrelids to perch on the wire…you know the rest.
    Cheers and best

  4. Andrew Bell

    Lovely photo Bob. We have a regular that preys on the chooks, which at least minimises our need to regularly cull them. I’ve been trying to photograph ours for some months with little success. It’s very shy, possibly related to the fact that for the previous year or so I’ve been throwing lumps of wood in its general direction, in defence of said chooks, and it doesn’t seem to have sensed the change of attitude.

    We watched it take a small bantam chick from the middle of the lawn recently and the hen flew vertically about 30 feet in the air and into an african mahogay after it. Our kelpie is the main guardian of the chooks, if we call “hawk” she dashes into the yard looking at the sky and sees them off. Incidently she behaves differently and appropriately to the similar call of “walk”, dogs it seems can differentiate consonants. Ours Sparrow Hawk shares the patch, and our chicks, with a Brown Goshawk, which had me confused until I realised we had two birds. The goshawk seems to hunt more by stealth in the lower branches.

    We did go through a brown falcon stage, a much more effective chook killer, a dramatic swoop and a decapitated rooster

    Andrew Bell

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