City sparrowhawks make 'better breeders' than rural birds

Sparrowhawk Image copyright Steve Round
Image caption The study suggests that urban hawks had much higher breeding success than those found in rural areas

Scottish sparrowhawks that live in the city are much more successful than their country counterparts, a study has found.

Researchers from RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group examined two populations of the hawks over four years.

They said the urban hawks in Edinburgh had much higher breeding success than the rural group in Ayrshire.

Territories were also more frequently occupied in the city.

The scientists examined the two raptor populations between 2009 and 2012 in what RSPB Scotland said was the first study of its kind.

Of the 20 breeding attempts that failed, only two were recorded in Edinburgh, with the rest in Ayrshire. The number of nest desertions was also much higher in the rural area.

It was this complete failure of numerous nests that caused lower breeding success in the rural sparrowhawk population.

Image copyright Steve Knell/RSPB
Image caption There are estimated to be 12,000 pairs of sparrowhawks in Scotland

In total, 195 sparrowhawk pairs were studied across 177 separate territories.

The paper's lead author, Michael Thornton, said the study showed that urban spaces like parks and gardens could provide suitable nest sites and an "abundance" of species for sparrowhawks to hunt.

Staffan Roos, another of the paper's authors, added: "The availability of food appears to have played an important role in the differences observed between sparrowhawks living in the city and those in the countryside.

"Gardens and parks hold large numbers of songbirds, which these raptors feed on, and the structure of urban landscapes in Edinburgh and other European cities, with parks and woodlands right next to private gardens, provides an ideal hunting environment for sparrowhawks."

Sparrowhawks were one of the first raptors to colonise urban areas in Europe, moving into British towns and cities in the 1980s.

The European sparrowhawk population is estimated to be up to 582,000 pairs. The UK has about 35,000 pairs, with 12,000 of those in Scotland.

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