Exhausted after failing to kill a blackbird

A male sparrowhawk resting after a blackbird chase
A male sparrowhawk resting after a blackbird chase

This photo by reader Joan Scowen taken in her garden near Chichester shows a male sparrowhawk resting after a blackbird chase. It missed the target.

Now it is transfixed by exhaustion. It is a violet little hawk and determined to have its own way. For a full minute it sat there after the pursuit unable to extricate its mind from the spectre of its quarry.

This nearly always does happen after a chase and you can often touch the bird as it is quite unaware of anything else happening around it.

Soldiers in battle and fighter pilots have been known to be shocked after the event and unable to move. I have seen road casualties in traffic accidents behave thus as well.

Those I have attended have been in violet contact with a deer that suddenly wandered out of the dark with fatal results for the deer and a sense of quite deep shock for the driver and passengers of the car.

Sparrowhawks were once considered “a great use and pleasure to falconers”.

The 17th century treatise on hawking by Richard Blome states: “He that hath experienced a well Reclaimed Sparrowhawk will hardly be without one”.

He went on: “They only reason why they are of so little esteem I suppose is their commonness and cheapness.”

Blome, whose Patron was Charles II, describes a good sparrowhawk thus: “The Head little, the Beak thick, the Legs short and fattish, the Pounces (claws) sharp and long, the Neck long, the Eyes of a sad Maille full, the Circle about the Ball of the Eyes of a colour betwixt white and green.”

Falconers of old had every detail at their fingertips of care and maintenance of their mental extensions as much as do owners of classic cars today.

But whereas a machine can be programmed infinitely an animal has to be coaxed. None was less compliant than a sparrowhawk or, in the case of T H White, a goshawk. Imagine yourself doing what that bird has to achieve daily.

That is, chasing, catching and killing another animal as big as yourself.

One that is as fast and determined not to die as yourself. Imagine then training said animal to want to do this almost impossible task every day not for itself but for your amusement. It was tricky art.

“The Sparrow-Hawk should not be Fled (flown) in the Morning unless she be prepared over Night with a short and clean Supper, and you should always have a Box about you Fresh Butter mixt with a little Saffron and Sugar Candy to give her now and then with her Meat which she will eat with great delight; and this will keep her head always, and in good Temper, and it always prevent the Cray (disease) and keep her proud and full of Spirit.”

Despite your thoughts about this killer, they are as wonderful to watch in the wild now, as on the fist centuries ago.