Sunday, 23 December 2012

Getting the Bird...

Our house is doing its bit to help the waning numbers of house sparrows. Well, I know it's particularly in the UK that their numbers are declining, but I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't also true here in Greece. Around the house and under the carports (our side and John and Wendy's) we estimate that there are probably a dozen nests and we're OK with that because, under the pitched terracotta tiled roof of the house itself there's a concrete slab for a roof, so the nests don't really do any harm, plus the occupants provide us with endless hours of pleasure, especially when the young are nearing their time to fledge.

Now and again we have to warn away Simba the cat, when he decides that a nice place to squat down on his haunches, ears all perked up and eyes concentrated on one particular direction, is behind the Agave Americana just a couple of metres from the flower bed where we throw the crumbs, but as a rule our sparrow population is quite safe and secure.

Well, I ought to say, was quite safe and secure. Why? because of late we've been conscious a lot more often of a silent "swoosh" as a bird of prey (evidently) "whooshed" past us while we've been taking coffee, or perhaps pottering around in the garden. There have been a few moments when we've almost felt the rush of air from its wings, it's come that close. 

Now, when we lived in our last house in the UK we used to have bird-feeder especially designed to take "Nyjer" seeds. We'd ordered it (and our first supply of the seeds) from the RSPB website (excellent, by the way, if you're in the UK that is!) especially designed to attract goldfinches [that link ought to take you to the excellent Keith Christmas' "Burdz" photo album on Facebook, in particular to a shot of a goldfinch on the same kind of feeder as we used to have]. We had to get used to the fact that our feeder was so successful, often being covered with goldfinches all squabbling to get at the seeds, that it soon became the local fast-food joint for sparrowhawks as well.

Photo courtesy of
We would frequently look out and see a Sparrowhawk sitting on the fence at the end of the garden, waiting for his (or her) lunch to arrive at the feeder, whereupon it would silently make its deadly swoop, grab a hapless goldfinch and be off away into the trees nearby to alight and enjoy its meal. My wife was pretty upset the first couple of times that this happened, but we all have to accept that it's how nature works. It's still a wonder to behold, despite our sentimentality about the poor victim. The rest of the goldfinches would very soon resume their attack on the Nyjer seeds, as though nothing had happened.

So, here we are now in Rhodes and this time we have a similar situation, although now with the actual prey after which the sparrowhawk is named. We do get goldfinches here too, but they don't live with us at the house. The sparrows, though, are in plentiful supply. Just yesterday we were enjoying a rotten weather day, as outside it was all grey and raining most of the time (very British), the logburner was flickering away and the afternoon was nearly over and we were both flopped out on the sofa watching a movie (very decadent, eh?), when my wife said, 

"Don't move. Look!!"

Now this was a bit silly, because in order to look where she wanted me to look, it entailed the need to move. So I moved, but everso slowly, since she was staring open-mouthed out of the French windows at the small marble table which we keep out there for coffee time. 

"It's sitting on the table. Is it a Sparrowhawk?"

It was. So I crept to my office, reeeeally slowly in case he saw me and took off. Then I crept back and snapped this...

Now, I know the quality isn't very good, not anything like as good as Keith's shots, or those of Nigel Sparks, but at least you can see him clearly. He just sat there for probably four or five minutes, before giving it up for a bad job, the sparrows no doubt all being tucked up under the eaves waiting out the weather, as indeed were we.

We were, notwithstanding the fact that some of the feathered residents around us may disappear from time to time, well pleased to see that we now have such a magnificent example of nature's flying machines living nearby.


  1. John . as you said yesterday was a grey & very wet day
    Early in the evening One of the feral cats from nearby was sitting outside on our bedroom window sill trying to keep dry. I opened the window & it jumped into my arms
    Softie that I am, I took it & got it dry with a towel
    A very happy cat spent the night in our living room
    By morning it wanted to go outside. So now its out there somewhere. I hope sheltered from the pouring rain
    It gave me a glow of satisfaction knowing I had at least given the poor thing warm & love for a few hours

  2. Birds are so entertaining and very crafty! As you say it is the circle of Life. I saw some lovely birds of prey a couple of weeks ago at a Christmas Market in Hexham. There was a Snowy Owl, a Buzzard and a lovely Great Grey Owl from Sweden - they were beautiful. I don't have a bird feeder as I have two cats who love to watch birds!!

    All the best for Christmas and a Happy New Year.


    1. Birds of prey going to a Christmas Market! Wonder if the prices ruffled their feathers!!

  3. Wow, what a photo! I've only ever seen a sparrowhawk at close quarters when one came swooping out of the sky towards a group of starlings which were feasting on leatherjackets on my lawn. They took off as he approached, but an unlucky one was grabbed mid-flight, leaving just a few feathers on the grass. I had stepped out of my french windows seconds before the 'kill'. It was an amazing sight.


  4. Great photo John. We get them here in the vines and I have mixed feelings about them as Sarah dedicates a lot of time to keeping the feeder topped up for the small birds in the garden.

    Back in the UK in Herefordshire I looked after a small Pheasant shoot and we used to get the Buzzards calling in regularly to dine.

    I could be in the pen and as the Pheasant heard the "screee screee" call of the buzzards above they would hunch up and try to get under cover. When the bird of prey came in to eat them, it would literally eat the pheasant alive in front of the other ones.

    As you say nature is cruel and the hawks are protected but sometimes I find it difficult to accept. My thought for the day. Good post as always....