EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
THIS WEEK, IT IS ACCIPITERS
There are two British species of hawk in the genus Accipiter. The Sparrowhawk is a common raptor (35,000 pairs) and the Goshawk is a rare breeder with fewer than 500 pairs across the country. Despite this disparity in abundance, the Goshawk is frequently ‘claimed’ by inexperienced birdwatchers. Indeed it is notorious for probably being the most ‘over-claimed’ bird. Of course, its very scarcity is one reason for its mistaken identity, as if you lack experience with a particular bird and seen a large or out of context Sparrowhawk it is natural to think it could be a different bird altogether.
If in doubt, it is a Sparrowhawk. If it looks like a big Sparrowhawk, it is a Sparrowhawk. If it is doing a sky dance with white fluffy undertail coverts spread, it could be either, but it is most likely a Sparrowhawk. If it dwarfs a Woodpigeon it is pursuing or is the same size as a Raven or Buzzard in the same airspace, it is a Goshawk.
Sparrowhawks are small: about the same size as a Kestrel. As with many birds of prey, males can be considerably smaller than females. Both have quite short blunt tipped wings and a long, narrow, square ended tail. Males can be colourful birds, bluish on top and barred reddish or salmon beneath. Females are a dull grey-brown on the upperparts and barred brown and white on the underparts. They hunt birds, using low flights and surprise, twistingand swooping round trees or over hedges or garden fences. Contrary to popular belief, they can take prey as large as a Woodpigeon.
You can see Sparrowhawks flying with a distinctive level ‘flap-flap-glide’ flight, or soaring on thermals. They also do a sky-dancing display flight with their white undertail coverts spread, and with slow rowing wingbeats, which can give an illusion of larger size and fuels confusion with the much larger Goshawk.
Goshawks are big birds, with a female being Buzzard–sized and a male also being substantially larger than a Sparrowhawk. Absolute size is not the only difference, though, and there are many structural differences which make Goshawks look not only massive but different from their smaller cousins. They have thicker based (so-called ‘broad hips’), more rounded tails, deep bellies and chests, and often appear to have bulging secondaries (rear edge of inner wing) with more ‘pointed’ wing tips. They also differ in plumage, with adults having darker cheeks and bolder supercilium and bluish (not grey-brown upperparts). Juveniles are easier to identify, being brown and having streaked, not barred, underparts.