The Sparrow Hawk, The Pocket Rocket!


The Sparrow Hawk, The Pocket Rocket!

On this page I will talk about the Sparrow Hawk. Also I will show some Sparrowhawk Picture Shots and talk about this hawk and its training methods.

  • Northern Sparrowhawk – accipiter nisus
  • Wingspan – 56-78 cm
  • Tail Length – 20-27cm
  • Overall Length – 28-40cm
  • Male – musket 61% size of female

First here is a great sparrowhawk picture. Thankyou to jim for providing the pics for this page :)

Sparrowhawks are quite common all over Europe, Russia and Africa. They are also found in the Far East. This is surprising as in their wild state they are very hard to spot and very secretive.

They have many subspecies and vary much across their range. They are extremely agile, uncompromising and successful little hunters. They are not unlike their larger cousin, the goshawk in appearance although unlike the gos, they already have the characteristic horizontal banding on their chest even in juvenile plumage.

They also have a longer middle toe in relation to their size than the goshawk. This gives them extra flexibility when grabbing their preferred quarry which consists of mainly songbirds although despite their diminutive size, these hawks have been known to take prey far larger and heavier than themselves.

As with all raptors, the female is considerably bigger than the male (musket). They are also generally more aggressive.

Juvenile hawks have pale eyes which darken to a deep, fierce orange with maturity although this can vary greatly between individuals.

Sparrow Hawks are members of the accipiter family. Accipiters have short rounded wings and everything about them is built for explosive speed and agility. Sparrowhawks fly with light beats and short glides and nearly always catch prey in mid air. They are well equipped for their specialised hunting techniques.

In contrast to the falcons, hawks have very long tails. This aids them to be more manoeuvrable when flying and means they can break quickly mid flight. This is essential because of the closed woodland environment that they hunt in.

This sparrow hawk picture shows the length of the tail in relation to the body of this juvenile hawk

Sparrow hawks are also well equipped to deal with prey and once it is caught; they have a strong grip for holding and pinning it down. As with buzzards (buteos) and Eagles, hawks main weapons are its feet and the hawk will normally subdue the prey by piercing it with its talons and gripping hard.

Sparrow hawks, like all accipiters are meticulous creatures and pluck the prey before eating it. This is contrary to buzzard and eagle behaviour where everything is eaten, feathers and all. In their wild state, sparrow hawks will have a “plucking post”. Normally at the site (or close by to) of the nest (which is normally made in trees) or close by to the preferred hunting ground. This is always a good way of finding these secretive little raptors in the wild.

Use In Falconry

These little birds are highly sought after in the world of falconry. They are very exciting birds to train, fly and hunt with.

It is important to know that only very experienced falconers should endeavour to train a “spar”. This is because of the fact that accipiters in general have extremely fast metabolisms. This means they have incredibly fast reactions, see at a much faster frame rate than us and generally have very nervous temperaments.

Basically, they live life at a far faster tempo than other raptors. It also means that weight control (the stable and most important ingredient of the whole falconry training, manning and husbandry process) is very difficult with sparrowhawks. Because of their very small size, even making the smallest mistake with feeding and their weight can have disastrous effects.

Unfortunately too many sparrow hawks are killed by inexperienced falconers who reduce the weight too much. Accipiters are prone to hypoglycaemic fits and so the margin for error is very small. Males (muskets) are very rarely flown because they are so small and delicate that even for a very experienced falconer, the weight control is a nightmare. The female is also capable of taking a wider variety of prey.

Sparrowhawks are difficult to man (tame) because of their nervous temperament and take more time to become accustomed to the falconer than goshawks This means that often Sparrowhawks are imprinted to give them a more even temperament.


Imprinting is a technique whereby the eyass (chick) Hawk Bird is hand-reared by the falconer from hatching or soon after. This means essentially that the hawk believes it is human and so therefore loses its natural fear much more easily. Imprinting however is a very complicated business and if done incorrectly can lead to very bad behavioural problems later on. These often manifest themselves as screaming and aggression.

Quarry and Training

Sparrow Hawks are very versatile and can take a wide variety of quarry; they are generally flown at blackbirds, starlings (with a licence), teal, magpies, moorhens and sometimes partridge (although many falconers leave partridges for the longwings). Female trained spars can also be flown at ducks with the aid of the falconer.

Sparrowhawks are trained to fly to the fist and also can be trained to the lure. It is always a good idea to get shortwings and broadwings (buzzards) trained to the lure for the occasion where they decide the top of a nearby tree is a much more comfortable place to sit than your glove!

If you train with the lure and garnish it well the spar will go mad for it every time it sees it. The lure is also a good intermediate step before entering your bird on quarry.

Sparrow Hawks often “still hunt”, this means in the wild they will often sit waiting for something to come past and then they will explode off the perch and overtake the prey normally in a very short distance.

They also tend to fly close to hedgerows in an effort to “flush” the prey from the hedge then will flip over the hedge taking the prey by surprise. Sparrow Hawks are also very acrobatic and can flip upside down in flight and will grab prey from underneath. Therefore it is not so important for an accipiter to try to gain the height advantage like a Falcon Sparrow Hawks are great birds, spectacular to watch and powerful predators for their size. They take up a lot of time and need a lot of dedication. When hunting, they do not travel huge distances like falcons, however telemetry is still essential as they are often very difficult to find because of dense undergrowth, especially when they have made a kill.

I am sure, however that anyone who has the experience, time dedication and patience to fly these great little birds will find them very rewarding.

Thank you for reading my page on these wonderful birds. Please feel free to comment or share your own stories below!