Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)


[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Accipiter nisus | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Sparrowhawk | [FR] Epervier d’Europe | [DE] Sperber | [ES] Gavilan Vulgar | [NL] Sperwer


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Accipiter are small and medium-sized hawks, often called Sparrow-hawks or Goshawks. The females are almost invariably much larger than the males – in some cases weighing twice as much – a level of size dimorphism only exceptionally reached in any other genus Falconiformes. Their wings are short and rounded; the tail usually quite long. They are well adapted for flying through dense bush. Bird-catching Sparrow-hawks generally have long and slender legs, with slender digits, the middle one being especially long. Goshawks are usually larger, with shorter, thicker tarsi and digits and a shorter middle digit. Some smaller species have goshawk-like feet and vice versa, making it difficult on a world-wide basis to subdivide the genus on this or any other broad basis. Although many accipiters feed upon birds moreso than do other hawks, some species take many mammals, especially squirrels; others take lizards, frogs, snakes, insects, even snails. In these species the legs and digits are sometimes slender, but short. Accipiters are rarely crested, but some have very attractive colour patterns. Black phases are present, especially in the tropical species. One in Australia has the only pure white phase. Accipiter is the largest genus in the family, having about fifty species. It is present worldwide, but is especially rich in Papua-New Guinea, where a small island like New Britain may have three to five endemic species or distinct sub-species.

Physical charateristics

The Sparrowhawk is about the same size as a Kestrel and has a similarly long tail but its wings have rounded not pointed tips and are shorter as if not fully extended. Whether soaring or gliding, Sparrowhawks have a characteristic flap-flap-glide action

Listen to the sound of Sparrowhawk


Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 58 cm wingspan max.: 80 cm
size min.: 29 cm size max.: 41 cm
incubation min.: 33 days incubation max.: 35 days
fledging min.: 24 days fledging max.: 35 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 6  


Eurasia : widespread. The sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) has a wide distribution throughout Eurasia and North Africa. It breeds in warm temperate and sub-tropical zones, from steppe to tropical broadleaf forest, from Ireland to Japan and as far south as the Mediterranean.


Breeds and winters in woodland, particularly coniferous, and also occurs in winter in farmland and even gardens


Eggs from late April or early May in Britain and north-west Europe. Up to 2 weeks earlier in southern Europe and 2-3 weeks later in northern parts of range.
The nest is build in the fork of tree, often close to trunk where 2 or 3 branches start at same level. Also on horizontal branch, usually in lower parts of main canopy. Conifers are preferred where available. Selected tree usually close to path or clearing for convenient access. A new nest is built each year, sometimes on foundation of old nest of Woodpigeon or other species, though normally close to previous nests. The nest is a loose structure of twigs with deep cup. Nest size varies with position in tree, with nests in forks built up until surface area is large enough. Twigs up to 60 cm long are used, during laying, lined with fine twigs or bark chips. The clutch size is 4-6 (3-7) and the incubation lasts 33-35 days per egg, average 39-42 days for complete clutch. The young fledge after 24-30 days, males before females.

Feeding habits

The sparrowhawk is a specialist feeder, as its name suggests. It takes birds of varying sizes, from finches and sparrows, to the size of wood pigeons.
It does on occasions take small rodents and other small land based prey, but birds account for well over 90% and maybe as high as 98% of their diet.

Video Sparrowhawk


copyright: Eddy Howland


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Accipiter nisus is a widespread breeder across most of Europe, which accounts for
less than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large
(>340,000 pairs), and underwent a large increase between 1970-1990. Although there
were declines in a few countries during 1990-2000, populations were stable or
increasing across most of Europe-including the key one in Russia-and the species
increased slightly overall.
There are 32 000 breeding pairs in Britain with a further 11 000 in Ireland. Including non-breeders, by the end of summer the resident population will probably be around 170 000 birds.

150,000-170,000 breeding pairs widespread throughout most of Europe. The UK is a stronghold with about 34000 pairs. Russian population 140000-180000 Turkish population 3000-10000.

Sparrowhawk status Least Concern


Migratory in northernmost parts of Europe and in most of Asia. Partially migratory in Central Europe. Sedentary in South of range. Various Central European countries receive Northern migrants, some of their breeding birds possibly migrating further South, reaching Mediterranean countries. Most migration actually from North-East to South-West. Few migrants reach Africa, although some birds winter in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, occasionally South to Kenya and Tanzania. Siberian population winters in South and South-East Asia.

Distribution map

Sparrowhawk distribution range map


Title Causes and consequences of breeding dispersal in the Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Author(s): Newton I . 2001
Abstract: Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus were present on parti..[more]..
Source: Ardea 89(special issue) : 143-154

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Title A test of the condition-bias hypothesis yields different results for two species of sparrowhawks (Accipiter)
A Test Of The Condition-Bias Hypothesis Yields Different Results For Two Species Of Sparrowhawks (Accipizter)
Author(s): Edna Gorney William S. Clark, and Yoram Yom-tov
Abstract: Determination of body condition of birds is import..[more]..
Source: Wilson Bull., 111(2), 1999, pp. 181-187

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Title The abundance of essential vitamins in food chains and its impact
on avian reproduction
Author(s): Arnold B. van den Burg
Abstract: Birds produce fewer or less viable eggs if the mic..[more]..
Source: Acta Zoologica Sinica 52(Supplement): 276-279, 2006

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Title Age-related trends in the breeding success of individual female Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus
Author(s): Newton I. & Rothery P.
Abstract: Overall, female Sparrowhawks improved in the mean ..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 86 (1): 21-31.

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Abstract: No significant diurnal variation in mean weight wa..[more]..
Source: The Auk 100: 344-354. April 1983

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