Joe Botting's picture

sparrowhawks at dusk

Hi all,

Just been on fieldwork in rural Shropshire, and twice in ten minutes we had a sparrowhawk cruising along in front of the car for a minute or two, a foot off the ground, in late evening (the sky still a bit light, but sun long gone). I've never seen this before, and wondered whether anyone knows if it's significant? Do they hunt particularly as the prey are starting to roost, hoping to startle them out of the bushes? Is this something you've seen commonly? Or was it just luck, and I'll never again seen them hunting along roads in the gloaming?




jerebarker's picture

hunting late/early

I don't think it's necessarily that unusual, though it might be that only a few individuals make a habit of it. Certainly Sparrowhawks hunt at roosts of e.g. hirundines and starlings, so they must be prepared to travel in near-darkness to a roost site of their own. Hunting along roads in low light ought to be a reasonably effective technique, I'd have thought.

I sometimes see Buzzards hunting along main roads very early in the morning on my way to work in spring & autumn, well before the sun's up, but whilst there is already a little light in the sky. I suspect they may also use the lights of the traffic to pick out prey. Risky business for them, though!

The local Peregrines (Exeter) also hunt at night - there's an article about a long-running study of their prey remains in a recent Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Soc. magazine which highlights the presence of bats and certain nocturnal migrants in their leavings. The article also suggests that there could be quite a degree of specialization in hunting technique and chosen prey by the individual predator (not so surprising when you think about it).

Perhaps our eyesight just isn't normally good enough to notice these 'diurnal' hunters when they're not following the books...? Or we're not often in the right place at the right time?

Joe Botting's picture


Many thanks for the reply! Very interesting, especially the bit about individual techniques - as you say, it shouldn't be surprising once you think of it...
Will certainly be keeping an eye out for this in future. I hadn't thought of them deliberately using the headlights, but that does make sense - they stayed in front of the car for much longer than I expected.
Lots of food for thought...

Conservationaction's picture

sparrowhawks at dusk

I have noted a sparrowhawk sitting above swift nest holes waiting for them to return for the night. In mid summer when the swifts return to roost it is practically dark. Thankfully never seen one getting caught!!

browntrumpet's picture


I've noticed a Magpie doing the exact same thing. Again, it was unsuccessful.

Aláine's picture


I've just done a study on the effects of urbanisation on birds and while I was researching I was in contact with a man who did his PHD on Peregrine Falcons he was explaining that light poloution in many towns and cities was allowing Peregrines to hunt nocturnally. I'd love to know, was your Sparrowhawk on street light lit road?


Joe Botting's picture


No, these were little back lanes with no lighting at all except for the headlights. If that's what it was doing, then it was making use of the only artificial light available...

I hadn't heard about the nocturnal peregrines, but it does make sense - you hear so many birds calling at odd times of night in cities now that it must be worth their while.

Ray Turner's picture

Night Hunting

Many birds have light under parts which may assist in camouflaging them against the sky during the day. There is a hypothesis that this is a failing at night over street lighting as it actually has the opposite effect, it is believed Peregrines are exploiting this. Examination of food cashes often shows they contain a good quantity of species normally associated with night flight. This has been backed up by the many webcams now covering our city dwelling Peregrines which often show activity throughout the night.

I attended a fascinating lecture last year by Simon King on the Peregrine where this was talked about quite a lot.