Sparrowhawks in the Wildwood

I came across a pair of sparrowhawks purely by chance while out filming my local badgers.

The badgers had been proving difficult and I was beginning to think about moving on to something more productive to film when early one evening, just after I had set up to film the badgers emerging from their sett, I heard the unmistakable call of a female sparrowhawk.

Even though the call was quite close, it took several hours of waiting and watching over the next couple of days before I got my first proper sighting of the bird that had made it. I knew there must be a male too and quite likely a nest but it was early May and the trees were already in full leaf. Catching a glimpse of anything amidst the tangle of branches was difficult enough – getting shots of the sparrowhawks at all, never mind capturing some interesting behaviour to make a complete video sequence, was almost impossible.

Sparrowhawks delay their breeding until later in the season compared to most birds so that there is a plentiful supply of other birds’ fledglings to feed on. My sparrowhawks’ nest was in a tree growing on the side of a steep slope in the woodland and the nest site was too high to get a good view of from the ground. Luckily there was another tree further down the slope that the sparrowhawks were using a lot and where, from my position on the ground almost at the top of the hill, I was able to get an eye-level view of them and still have them within range of my camera. This tree is where the male would often come to meet the female and hand over his prey to her.

[Video – Sparrowhawks clip from Through the Garden Gate – Diary of the Enflish Countryside (2010)]

A few years later, in the summer of 2014, I had the chance to film sparrowhawks again. This time for the BBC1 wildlife series The Hunt. On that occasion I had the help of several experts in the field, a high scaffold tower to get up close and at eye-level with the birds plus the use of all the latest and greatest camera equipment provided by the BBC.

filming tower in the woods
Scaffold tower used to film sparrowhawks for the BBC series The Hunt. Photo: Stephen de Vere

But that very first filming encounter with these wonderful birds, discovered by myself, by accident and in my own back yard still ranks as one of my best filming memories ever.

Stephen de Vere