Which predator eats everything except the beak?



Growing up in rural Yorkshire I've identified the cause of many bird deaths but for the first time, I'm stumped. I'd really appreciate any insights please and I'd also be interested in identifying the victim. This looks possibly like a fledgling starling or blackbird to me, the beak is too large to be anything smaller. I've never seen a pile of feathers with nothing left behind but the beak before and I can't find any mention of this online (the beak is towards the bottom-left of the feathers). Other than one or two tiny scraps of flesh there was zero trace of the bird, absolutely no blood or bones, just the beak with very neat remnants of the skull attached. The only other traces were the stomach contents (but not the organs that previously held them) and a long streak of white faeces next to them. The feathers seemed neatly plucked, so my first thought was a hawk but the beak appeared to have been removed with surgical precision. Which predators are capable of this?

It happened around 7.30pm last night at the back of my garden, in the space of an hour as I was in the exact location just after 7pm and returned just after 8pm, which is when I made the discovery and possibly disturbed the culprit. My garden is surrounded by bushes, trees and chicken wire (the remains are about a foot from the perimeter) and backs onto fields. There were a few feathers that trailed towards the perimeter, so I can't help but wonder if a weasel, stoat, mink or rat could have dragged the rest of the body through the chicken wire, possibly after stalking the bird from the bush and ambushing it. The only predators I've actually seen in and around my garden are owls, red kites and kestrels (all presumably drawn towards the mice and voles that live in it). There have been fox sightings nearby and I've seen one cat in the hamlet where I live but she never comes in my garden as I have two dogs. I have had many cats in my lifetime but this doesn't resemble any of their kills. 

Thanks in advance for your help.

  • Usually a Sparrowhawk IMO

    (Pardon the Scottish Accent)

  • In reply to Linda257:

    Thanks, much appreciated. Do you think a sparrowhawk would eat the entire body but specifically leave the beak? I've found lots of info about how they kill and eat but nothing about what parts of the bird they may avoid. I'm trying to figure out how they could remove the beak so cleanly and if they're capable of eating the skull and other larger bones from a bird the size of a starling.
    Apologies for the gory details, I'm desperate to get to the bottom of this as I've never seen any remains quite like these (and hopefully won't again in my garden!).
  • Hi Nix, any time the Sprawk has taken prey here, it has always been just a pile of feathers leff behind.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • In reply to Catlady:

    Hi Catlady, thanks. I've found piles of feathers before but never a beak too. As the digestive tract contents are the only other remains, aside from the feathers, the bird appears to have been entirely eaten where it was killed. Would a sparrowhawk eat everything except the beak and be capable of neatly separating the beak from the skull? I've not much experience with sparrowhawks specifically so this is all very fascinating.
  • Well I have never sieved through the pile of feathers to see if there is a beak or not. I have watched many times from the catching of the prey / plucking / eating ...usually all takes about 50mins if it's a pigeon

    I have a frequent sparrowhawk...meet Jock the sprawk in the link below ;-)


    (Pardon the Scottish Accent)

  • In reply to Linda257:

    Wow, stunning photos!
  • In reply to Nix:

    The prey would have been part eaten, and the rest taken away. The bill is sometimes left. Depends on the size of prey and whether the hawk was disturbed early. The longer it is feeding, the more likely the more unpalatable bits that are left.
  • In reply to ItisaRobbo:

    That is really interesting, thank you. The prey is the size of a blackbird, do you think a sparrowhawk is the most likely culprit? I've never seen a sparrowhawk in my area but red kites circle above my garden most days so they were my first thought. However, I read they prefer dead or injured animals and tend to hunt smaller creatures like mice, but I assume they would pounce on a healthy blackbird if given the chance.
  • In reply to Nix:

    Yes, sparrowhawk almost certainly.
  • In reply to Nix:

    I think the chances of it being a Red Kite are pretty slim they tend to only visit gardens when food has been put out for them. As already suggested Sparrowhawk is the most likely culprit to catch the bird in the first place but it may have been disturbed and left the kill on the ground. If this happened something like a Stoat or Weasel may have finished the meal off. We need CSI on the case


    Birding is for everyone no matter how good or bad we are at it,enjoy it while you can