City hawks prevail over country cousins

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Scientists have found that city sparrowhawks in Scotland are more successful than their country cousins, in a first of its kind study on these raptors.

Researchers from RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group examined differences between populations of the birds in Edinburgh and in the Ayrshire countryside over four years from 2009 to 2012.

They found that territories in the urban environment (Edinburgh) were occupied far more frequently than those in the rural study area (Ayrshire) and that the city hawks also had significantly higher breeding success than the country hawks.

Of the 20 breeding attempts that failed, only two were recorded in the urban study area, the rest in the rural. The number of nest desertions was also much higher in the latter. It was this complete failure of numerous nests that caused lower breeding success in the rural sparrowhawk population.

In total, 195 sparrowhawk pairs were located in the two study areas across 117 separate sites or ‘territories’. The paper has been published in the journal Écoscience.

Sparrowhawks were one of the first raptors to colonise urban areas in Europe, in the UK this happened in the 1980s. The European sparrowhawk population is estimated to be up to 582,000 pairs with the UK holding around 35,000 pairs, 12,000 of those in Scotland.