After discovering first hand from a survey I conducted that sparrowhawks are not welcome visitors to the public’s gardens, I was intrigued to see why and to what extent did the dislike and hostile attitude towards sparrowhawks escalate too.
Sparrowhawks could possibly be the most disliked bird in the UK but why? What makes this predator worse than any other?
From the name given to this predator it is clear to say that the sparrowhawk predates on sparrows. Could this be the reason? In Recent years house sparrow numbers have caused a lot of concern. Until about the last decade the house sparrow was considered one of the most common birds to our gardens. However now in the UK the House sparrow has been given a RED conservation status. Some studies have suggested that sparrowhawks are to blame for the house sparrow’s decline. One study In particular found that sparrowhawk presence significantly effects house sparrow numbers. However there are far fewer studies that have found that sparrowhawks significantly affect song bird numbers including house sparrows. Finding that during sparrowhawk declines there were no associated increases in songbird numbers and vice versa. Furthermore less publically shared is that studies have found that our fluffy feline friends predate on house sparrows at a rate high enough to cause detrimental effects to local populations.
In truth statistics have shown that only one in ten chases actually result in the sparrowhawk making a kill. Additionally predation in general only plays a small factor into songbird declines and that many factors associated with song bird declines are primarily caused by us. So why has the sparrowhawk been publically blamed for song bird declines particularly the house sparrow?
Well, sparrowhawks in the 19th century were heavily persecuted and were badly affected by pesticide poisoning. Many cases in the UK of sparrowhawks found dead were a result of abusive usage of pesticides. Due to this sparrowhawks became virtually extinct in some parts of England mainly south and east parts of England.
Sparrowhawks were eventually protected by law which did help increase their numbers. However out of all birds of prey species the sparrowhawk was the last bird to be protected by law. This further indicates the publics dislike for the sparrowhawk. Although now protected there have been recent cases where members of the public have been caught still intentionally poisoning sparrowhawks. Furthermore pigeon fanciers and their organisations did want to change the laws so that sparrowhawks could be translocated or killed as to prevent them predating on their racing pigeons.
Could the sparrowhawks behaviour be why this bird has been pin pointed as the reason for the house sparrow’s declines? Out of sight out of mind. Sparrowhawks are known to kill and pluck their victims in public, whereas other birds of prey are more subtle, hunting at night or more secretly. Therefore causing the public to see a more negative view of sparrowhawks than other birds of prey. Another potential reason could be the sparrowhawks appearance that causes it to be so disliked? It has been found in many studies that we empathise with cute and fluffy animals. Owls in present years have been very popular there is not many shops that don’t sell something with an owl on it at present. This is likely because owls are large eyed and have a soft rounded shape. When looking at a sparrowhawk the words cute and fluffy do not spring to mind, more so the sparrowhawk has a mean appearance with small eyes and sharp features.
To conclude it seems that there are many reasons for the public to dislike sparrowhawks but there is still a gap in research as to the effects predation has on house sparrow and other song birds. Therefore I strongly suggest we step back and consider that sparrowhawks are just another predator no worse than any other.
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