Do sparrowhawks affect songbird populations?

BBC Wildlife contributor Mike Toms answers your wild question.


Sparrowhawk © Keith Cochrane


The sparrowhawk is one of our commonest raptors and also the one most likely to be seen in the act of predation, taking small birds from garden feeders.

The recovery of its population from the past impact of organochlorine pesticides coincides with a marked decline in some songbird populations. However, detailed studies, such as at Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire, have not found a causal link – for example, breeding tit populations in the woods were not conspicuously higher in years when sparrowhawks were absent.

Though one study estimated that the species took 18–27 per cent of young blue tits fledged from a nestbox population, even this level of predation was not enough to depress breeding densities in future years.

It is worth noting that most songbirds are predators too, and we don’t get quite so worked up about a blue tit killing a caterpillar or a song thrush eating a snail. 

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