I always have mixed feelings when I see sparrowhawks in my garden.
I can't help but admire their speed and agility, but they come in to my garden to hunt precious garden birds.
Over the years I have developed a technique to feed them an alternative menu. But it's not been easy. Sparrowhawks are true hunters and only hunt live prey, using movement to locate their prey.
I painted the above after watching a woodpecker escape detection by keeping absolutely still, even though it was so close!
But this means it is difficult to get them to feed from a particular spot in order to photograph them. Having said that, sparrowhawks don't always finish their meal in one go and often leave a kill half eaten to come back to.
So I have found that if I find a carcass from a new kill, I can replace it with something else without the hawk noticing. I have a freezer that I keep stocked with road kill. Mainly it is stocked with pigeon and rabbits.
When the sparrowhawk returns to finish its meal it often looks a bit surprised to find what is often a different species to what it had left, but it tends not to pass up on this offer of a free meal.
I can move this new carcass a few metres every day until it is in a convenient place for me to photograph.
By using this technique I managed to get a female sparrowhawk to feed in the garden for six months and I got some great photographs of its daily dramas - especially when a young female turned up and fought it over the feeding station! (below) It was so dramatic watching these supreme predators vying for position!
The older bird eventually won this battle, even though the younger bird was much more aggressive.
Unfortunately the older female left the garden this April. I expect she went away to nest. There is a new hawk here now,. When I first saw it flit past the window in late June, I thought it was the same one back, but this is a new female.
I have some good shots of her and also of another young female that has been visiting (pictured below), but I'm yet to be able to persuade her to feed here despite trying.
I hope I can get her to because I'm working on a new composition for a new painting of a sparrowhawk and I would like to have a painting model I can rely on!
This will be my new challenge over the next month.