Rossendale Free Press
Super hunters are a wonder of wild
THIS month I am celebrating a decade of working for the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.
I am proud of this not least because I have never stayed in a job for so long and my brother, Brian, has a degree in some biological subject or other but I am seen as the family wildlife expert. It annoys him when relatives tell him that they had a wildlife question but they asked Alan.
I would never claim to be a wildlife expert but I have certainly learned a lot of stuff during the past 10 years. And working with passionate people has certainly encouraged me to speak up when I feel nature is in danger.
In our village I am recognised by people and they ask me questions or tell me about their encounters with nature, which I do enjoy.
This week, a lot of people have been mentioning the sparrowhawk. We have had a number of sightings of this bird of prey around gardens in the region.
It is no surprise, as sparrowhawks are brilliant predators and know exactly where to find food when it is scarce in the depths of winter. Long back alleys leading to gardens with bird tables are obvious places to hunt for smaller birds.
Tits, sparrows and starlings are happily feeding on bird tables, not realising that a hawk is keen to have one of them for lunch.
Our kitchen looks out onto a wall and the back alley and we have seen a couple of sparrowhawks ripping into the food they have caught. They sit on the wall taking little notice if we walk into the garden. I love their confidence but I am not keen on getting the evil eye from one of these super hunters.
They are small birds of prey not much bigger than a dove. Males have blue-grey back and white underparts, with reddish barring. Females are larger, browner and have grey bars below. They both have red cheeks, just like me at this time of year.
They are able change direction quickly, which confuses their prey, meaning they can hunt easily in small spaces – like gardens. Watching a sparrowhawk hunt is awesome, they were built to do this kind of thing.
Birds of prey are doing OK across the region at the moment and sparrowhawks are no exception, making the most of the year-round buffet of smaller birds.
Some squeamish folk may find this a little horrible, but this is nature and it means there are amazing wild wonders happening in your garden and not just on the telly, with a soundtrack by David Attenborough.
We are so lucky to have an amazing array of birds of prey hunting in our parks, fields and gardens. The buzzard, the kestrel, the hobby and assorted owls are ones we should all recognise, but there are also marsh harriers on wetlands and hen harriers on the moors. Could 2021 be the year that a pair of osprey or red kite nest here for the first time in a century? That would be amazing.
After 10 years of working for the Wildlife Trust, I feel I am blessed to have seen these wild hunters and scavengers in every part of our region and I am always happy to tell you about my encounters.