Worcestershire Record No. 21 April 2007 pp. 16-17
I was working in the kitchen when I heard a loud thump, typical of a bird-strike against a window. I finished what I was doing and decided to investigate what had happened. The ledge of our sitting room window is unusually low and there is a gravel path directly outside. The path is some four meters from the road and separated from it by a flower border.
On the gravel path below the window a male sparrowhawk was pinning down an adult woodpigeon, which was struggling desperately. The sparrowhawk was gripping its prey in both feet whilst standing on its back facing its tail end. It had started to pluck the pigeon working from just above the tail feathers and concentrating on its back. Although working fairly quickly it had to stop repeatedly to look for signs of danger. I was watching from less than two meters away, hidden only by a potted geranium (field-craft Harry, field-craft!!), so could see clearly the agonised expression on the pigeons face and its desperate struggles to escape.
I finally remembered my camera and sneaked away to find it returning to see the sparrowhawk still hard at work and the pigeon still struggling weakly. I took a series of photographs and the zoom lens brought the drama even closer.
By now the sparrowhawk had completely plucked more than half of the back but needed to turn around to complete it. This manoeuvre was not easy – each time the hawk withdrew its talons and re-gripped its prey the hapless pigeon convulsed in agony – but eventually it finished up facing the pigeon’s head end. It then resumed plucking and working its way towards the neck. Once there, it changed position again, this time holding the pigeon’s head firmly in its left foot and twisting it to the left. Then it removed some feathers from the area where the base of the neck meets the top of the right wing and for the first time cut into the flesh. Blood flowed immediately from a severed artery or vein and then to my amazement the sparrowhawk began to drink it. It drank quickly and afterwards I found only a few wasted drops on the ground. It was clearly enjoying the taste, at times pausing briefly and looking for all the world like a wine taster!!
The woodpigeon finally died (some 8-10 minutes after the initial attack) and by now two pedestrians and several cars had passed by, each time causing the sparrowhawk to adopt a ‘frozen’ position until the danger had passed. I saw its legs tense and the bird adopt a crouch position and realised it was going to attempt to take off. The hawk was clearly no bigger than its prey and I assumed that it would not be possible to take off. However, I was wrong, and it flew off, rising steadily, and disappeared from my view.
I waited for more than an hour before going out to investigate where it might have gone. I found further evidence about twenty metres away. The sparrowhawk had completed the plucking process including wing and tail feathers. However, it appeared that the prey had not been eaten there, as there were no remains of feet and beak, which I might have expected to find. I believe that it must have carried the woodpigeon up into a tree to eat it.
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