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