Sunday, 7 December 2014

Grab and go - Sparrowhawk style.

I didn't expect to be posting again so soon but a juvenile male Sparrowhawk gave me a fantastic photo opportunity today and I wanted to share the results. While I see Sparrowhawks on a fairly regular basis it is not often that I get to watch them with prey let alone photograph it. Well fed gardens that attract a good number of birds, like mine, probably present the best opportunity for seeing such life and death struggles but they are often so fleeting they are easily missed. This is only the third time I have managed to photograph a Sparrowhawk with prey and there was the initial mad panic of grabbing the camera and checking the settings whilst hoping the encounter would last long enough to be able to rattle off a few shots.

The lighting was terrible as we had just had a sleety hail shower and initially I only managed to get shutter speeds of around 100th of a second at IS0 3200 with focal lengths of between 200 and 400mm. The lighting improved slightly as the encounter went on but the shutter speeds only went up to a 500th of a second at best. All the photographs were taken with the camera hand held and through double glazing.

The Sparrowhawk had to use its lightening reflexes to hang on to the Starling, which was screaming and struggling for its life, and it had to keep repositioning its grip to maintain control and its balance. The Starling nearly got away a couple of times and the Sparrowhawk was clearly wary of its beak and didn't try to apply a killer bite. Eventually the Starling seemed to tire and the Sparrowhawk flew off with its prey still very much alive. This life and death struggle went on for four minutes and it wasn't really a case of grab and go as the Starling got grabbed time and time again; so more of a multiple grab and go.

Now I can vouch for the strength of grip that a Sparrowhawk has along with the sharpness of their claws and the skin of my hands is much thicker than that of a Starling. People often think it is the beak that you have to watch when you handle and ring birds of prey but it is the feet and talons that can do the damage. I have had the claws of a Sparrowhawk meet under my skin on more than one occasion such is the speed and power of their grasp. The Sparrowhawk will have inflicted quite a few deep puncture wounds in the process of trying to subdue its hapless prey as feathers can only offer limited protection to the relatively thin skin of a bird. Ouch!!!

The 3 photos below convey some of the drama as it unfolded on the garden path.

I took around 100 photos in total and the following short video presentation shows a selection of them in the order they were taken.

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