As I drove onto the reserve mid afternoon a Kestrel was hovering over the pear orchard, against the cold, clear blue sky it would have made a great photo. Experience has taught me getting the camera out of the bag affixing the telephoto lens, opening the window and focussing on the bird  was never going to happen as they never stay still in one place for more than ten of fifteen seconds. I had to remind myself to have the camera ready on the seat.

I drove on slowly vowing to do just that, after a hundred yards I was to regret my lack of foresight again. in a bush ten yards ahead a beautiful male Sparrowhawk perched with his back to me. Easily identified as a male by his kestrel size and slate grey back and wings. I stopped expecting him to fly off, but he just stayed put obviously tranfixed by something and seemingly oblivious to my presence.

After about 15 seconds he turned round, realized I was watching and shot off hugging the road by just a few inches, 30 seconds later he flew straight as an arrow across my path. The drive from the entrance to the office at Bromhey Farm is the best place to see this fabulous little hawk fairly close up. I see them most when they are high in the sky circling and soaring on the lookout for a meal.

Key information

Sparrowhawks are small birds of prey. They're adapted for hunting birds in confined spaces like dense woodland, so gardens are ideal hunting grounds for them. Adult male sparrowhawks have bluish-grey back and wings and orangey-brown bars on their chest and belly. Females and young birds have brown back and wings, and brown bars underneath. Sparrowhawks have bright yellow or orangey eyes, long, yellow legs and long talons. Females are larger than males, as with all birds of prey.

What they eat:

Mainly small birds, but 120 different species have been recorded. Males can catch birds up to thrush size, but females, being bigger, can catch birds up to pigeon size. Some sparrowhawks catch bats.


110-196g (male); 185-342g (female)


UK breeding:
35,000 pairs

Identifying features:

This bird species has different identifying features depending on sex/age/season.

Sparrowhawk (male)

Sparrowhawk (female)

Similar birds:

Our Wildlife Enquiries team probably receives more queries about sparrowhawks than any other species of bird of prey. They can be confused with several other birds of prey. Find out what to look for.

Sparrowhawk (less than a year old) - Young sparrowhawks have brown wings and backs, with chestnut-brown edges to the feathers. Their breast feathers have brown streaks or chevrons. Adult female sparrowhawks are also brownish, but with horizontal bars on the breast feathers and a greyer back and wings.

Sparrowhawk (adult male) - Adult male sparrowhawks have orange breasts and slate-grey or bluish backs and wings. As they get older, their eyes turn from yellow to orange.

Kestrel - Kestrels sometimes come into gardens, but sparrowhawks are more common visitors. If you can see their eyes, sparrowhawks have piercing yellow or orangey irises, whereas kestrels' eyes are all-dark.

Peregrine - Although peregrines are breeding successfully in many UK cities now, a bird which has killed a pigeon in your garden is still more likely to be a sparrowhawk. Again, look at the eyes - peregrine eyes are all-dark.

Merlin - In 99 per cent of garden situations, merlins can be ruled out. They are supremely adapted for hunting in open country - the enclosed spaces of gardens just aren't their style. It's very unlikely that you'll see one sitting on a fence or roof. Unlike sparrowhawks, merlins and other falcons always have all-dark eyes.

Goshawk - Goshawks can look similar to sparrowhawks (a large female sparrowhawk can be almost the same size as a male goshawk), but again, they don't really 'do' gardens. They are very shy birds which inhabit large areas of woodland or tracts of open countryside.









Where and when to see them

Sparrowhawks breed in woodland but also visit gardens and more open country. They can be seen in towns and cities, as well as rural areas. Listen for the alarm calls of smaller birds as they spot a sparrowhawk and will alert other birds in the area to the danger. In the UK sparrowhawks are found everywhere, except for parts of the Scottish Highlands, the Western Isles and Shetland.

* This map is intended as a guide. It shows general distribution rather than detailed, localised populations.
  • Resident
  • Passage
  • Summer
  • Winter


Sparrowhawks can be seen at any time of year; you might see birds displaying to each other in early spring, when males perform a 'rollercoaster' flight, climbing up and diving back down again to impress females.