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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 7:22 EDT

Sparrowhawk

The Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. The red-tailed hawk of the U.S. Central Plains was once identified by this name in pre-Columbian times.

Males of this species were once referred to as muskets; the gun called a musket was named after the bird.

It is a widespread species throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the Old World. This bird is mainly non-migratory, however races from colder regions of north Europe and Asia winter in the south, as far as North Africa and India.

This species nests in trees and build a new nest each year. The mainstay of the Sparrowhawk diet is birds, which it hunts in woodland or cultivated areas, relying on surprise as it flies from a perch or hedge-hops to catch its prey unaware.

This small raptor has short broad wings and a long tail, both adaptations to maneuvering through trees. The male is 29-34 cm long with a 59-64 cm wingspan, and is slate-grey above and barred reddish below.

The female, as with many other birds of prey, is much larger at 35-41 cm in length and with a 67-80 cm wingspan. She is barred grey below, and can be easily confused with the similarly sized male Goshawk, however she lacks the bulk of that species.

Juveniles are brown above and barred brown below.

The flight is a characteristic “flap – flap – glide”.

The New World species formerly known as the Sparrow Hawk (Falco sparverius) is now called the American Kestrel. The new name is preferable, since this bird is not a hawk but a falcon.

Sparrowhawk