The sparrowhawks in the bottom of the neighbour’s yard have beaten the odds. Despite the visits of the hungry currawongs and randy cuckoos, two strapping fledglings have emerged from the nest this week.
Our days are punctuated by the insistent call of the mother and father hawks telling the teenagers that it’s time to head back to the ridiculously tiny nest for dinner. And the juvenile’s answering pitiful cries, disproportionate to their galumphing size. They’re easily as big as their parents even at this early stage.
And early in the morning, the ding-dong battles between the sparrowhawks and the local mob of sulphur crested cockatoos, that wheel across the valley each day to find the tastiest trees and finest roosting places. The hawks have been watchful but apparently unconcerned by the range of large and small humans arguing, gardening, driving, swimming and playing beneath their nest and, as you can see, endlessly photographing their activities.
But the arrival of a crew of a dozen or so seed eaters in their territory was apparently intolerable. A crested pigeon is the biggest prey sparrowhawks have been known to take, but we’ve seen for ourselves they’re not afraid to send cockies and cuckoos packing. The cockatoos didn’t take off without a bit of argy bargy but in the end the diminutive predators won the day.
The flock retreated off to our place, and relieved their frustration with some light demolition work on the rotting pine tree in our backyard. I assumed it was the parents that did the chasing off, but Stephen Debus, who spent a lot of time hanging out in the Bundaberg Botanical Gardens with a digital camera and a pair of young sparrowhawks, seems to think that the young ones like to chase away bigger birds that they couldn’t possibly eat, everything from egrets, darters and ducks to kestrels and even currawongs, their erstwhile enemies.
There’s been an exciting new development in the last couple of days: the littlies are trying their hand with disembowelling. Young nestlings are fed gobbets of freshly plucked bird flesh, straight from mum or dad’s beak, but this youngster was doing his own kitchen prep. It took him a while. Given the eye-claw coordination on display here, it may be a few weeks before this one is hunting on its own. It seems that taking dinner from the talons of parents mid-air (and maybe snacking on cicadas in between meals) is the next step towards independence.
From the vantage point of our neighbours’ pool, we’ve watched the fledglings practicing their short haul flights (and awkward landings), whine a lot and bicker over food. In a truly rare sighting, judging from my experience with human children, I even saw one of them give in to his sibling’s relentless complaining and share a meal.
Or maybe what I saw was big sister muscling in on little brother? Sparrowhawks have distinct sexual dimorphism, and apparently any idiot can tell the smaller males from the females. Not this idiot! I look forward to being enlightened by sharp eyed readers.
As you can tell from the recent posts in this blog, I have got just a little obsessed by our in-house raptors these last few months. Maybe because our four serial killers have cleared the area of other distraction – the usual “house” birds.
No baby brush turkeys this year (hooray!) and the noisy miners have been mercifully silent. But the gorgeous satin bowerbirds have also been thin on the ground, the newly arrived whipbird disappeared suddenly without leaving a forwarding address, and I’ve heard very few of the chocks and clucks of the wattlebirds that make up the usual soundscape of our neighbourhood.
We have about six weeks, it seems, before the young sparrowhawks will disperse, looking for another neck of the woods with the requisite tall trees for nesting and plenty of small gormless birds to ambush from a secret spot in the canopy.
Will the adults stay after the brood has gone? Will they leave and come back next year? It seems no one really knows much about the movement of these secretive birds, despite their presence all over Australia, in every habitat but the driest of deserts.
And, if our lovely raptors do leave us, will our usual cast of feathered friends – the nectar drinkers, the seed and flower and lerp eaters – return?
Barnes, C.P. and Debus, S. (2014) “Observations of the post-fledgling period of the collared sparrowhawk (Accipeter cirrocephalus)” from The Sunbird (2014) 44(1): 12–23
Debus, Stephen (2012) Birds of Prey of Australia: a field guide, CSIRO Publishing
More sparrowhawk stories from our backyard
and the latest from our backyard: the teenagers start hunting for themselves… Sibling rivalry amongst the young serial killers….