History of sparrowhawks in the UK

A bit of important sparrowhawk history

The sparrowhawk's biggest threat has been humans for the past 150 years. In that time us humans have done two main things that have caused sparrowhawks in the UK to decline significantly.

Problem one:

Sparrowhawks were persecuted by game keepers to protect game birds such as the red grouse, pheasant and partridge. Many birds were shot during the hey day of game management in the 19th century. The sparrowhawk population made a slight recovery during the world wars when many of the game keepers had leave for service in the war.

Problem two:

The use of pesticides on crops. Although the effects of pesticides on sparrowhawks were unintentional it was still a big problem. Pesticides made their way up the food chain when small birds ate insects found on cereal crops that had been sprayed with these pesticides. In the small birds the pesticide built up a bit due to the number of bugs they had eaten. But when sparrowhawks ate a number of these small song birds the amount of pesticide in them was enough to cause problems. These pesticides, particularly one called DDT, made the shells of sparrowhawk eggs very thin so they were easily broken in the nest. This meant that very few chicks actually hatched and few sparrowhawks survived this widescale environmental poisoning. This problem was particularly acute in areas of intensive agriculture in the eastern half of the UK.

Since the use of these pesticides has been banned the sparrowhawk population has made a big recovery and the birds can now be seen all over the UK where there is woodland.