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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Sparrowhawk

Bird Sightings - Sparrowhawk


(Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Hawk, Sprawk, Spazz, Northern Sparrow Hawk, Northern Sparrowhawk, Sparrow Hawk, Musket)

Accipiter nisus

Gaelic: Speireag

Photograph © Terry Fountain
Loch Carnan - Lochboisedale - South Uist - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)

"The sparrowhawk above has been at Loch Carnan since the winter and regularly feeds on sparrows outside my kitchen window."


Our Sparrowhawk photographs

adult male
adult male
Juvenile Female


  • Sparrowhawk (Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Hawk, Sprawk, Spazz, Northern Sparrow Hawk, Northern Sparrowhawk, Sparrow Hawk, Musket)
  • Accipiter nisus
  • Gaelic: Speireag
  • UK: Summer 39,000 pairs
  • UK: Resident Breeder, Passage/Winter Visitor
  • WI: Scarce passage mainly autumn (very small numbers recorded in most years), scarce winter visitor (very small numbers recorded in most years)
  • Breeds: Mainly resident in Europe, Asia
  • Winters: Northernmost breeders migrate south for winter, as far Africa & India.
  • Habitat: Woodlands, hedgerows, parks, gardens, fields, cultivated areas
  • Small raptor. Wings broad, rounded. Does not hover. Flight pattern flap, flap, glide
    Adult male: 29-34 cm, 11-13inches length. Slate-grey back. White underparts (with reddish-orange barring). Long, grey tail with dark bars.
    Female larger (by up to 25%) & heavier built. Brown above. Dark barring below. White stripe over eye.
    Juvenile brown above & barred brown below.
  • Diet: Small birds. Wing & tail shape are adaptations for weaving through trees at high speed. Bird relies on surprise as it bursts out from perch or cover & pursues prey for short distance
  • Max recorded age 20yr 3mth. Typical lifespan 3 yrs
  • Listen to a Sparrowhawk (RSPB site)
  • Similar birds: Kestrel, Goshawk (very rare here), Merlin, (vertical streaking), Cuckoo !(here spring/summer)


Musket is an old name for the male Sparrowhawk which being smaller than the female is faster and more agile as it bursts from cover seeking it's prey. The gun was named after the bird.



Sparrowhawk records in the Western Isles

Scarce passage mainly autumn (very small numbers recorded in most years) , scarce winter visitor (small numbers recorded in most years).
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

Two breeding records Stornoway castle grounds in 1979 and South Uist in 2007

On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Sparrowhawk is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)



Threats to the Sparrowhawk Population

Sparrowhawks are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to kill, injure or take an adult Sparrowhawk, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

In the mid-1800's guns became widespread and many Sparrowhawks were shot. Their numbers dropped considerably. Legal protection first came in during the 1960's but then the Sparrowhawks experienced breeding problems. Pesticides like DDT had built up in the food-chain and being at the top of the chain the Sparrowhawks were taking in concentrated amounts which led to thinning of the shells of their eggs. Chemical use of pesticides became restricted by law and then the numbers of Sparrowhawks again increased. Recent times have seen the species decline once more, this time the cause being thought to be due to loss of habitat and food availability.


Egg thieves are still a major problem for raptors. In 2001 an egg collector from London was arrested for disturbing Golden Eagles. He was trying to steal eggs from a nest on South Uist.

There is a BBC article written in 2008 about another egg-collector caught with more than 7,000 eggs in his collection,  653 of those eggs were from the UK's most protected species such as the Red-necked Phalarope. He also had eggs from Barn Owls, Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Choughs, Peregrine Falcons, and almost 40 Black-necked Grebe's eggs. (RSPB estimates there are only 40 - 60 breeding pairs of Black-necked Grebes in the whole of the UK....)


  • Keep your eyes open for trouble.
  • Quickly phone the police or RSPB if you are at all worried about the safety of the Sparrowhawks.
  • Don't tell people if you know where there are Sparrowhawk nests
  • If you know where the Sparrowhawks are breeding do not take photographs of them on the nest. Disturb protected breeding birds and you are going to be arrested ...
  • Don't mention where you have seen Sparrowhawks during breeding time - (locations where the birds of prey have been sighted at breeding time are kept vague on our bird sightings page).

A lot of people think that egg-collecting does not happen anymore, it is an archaic thing to do in these enlightened times - but sadly the rarer a species becomes the greater a target it is ...




Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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