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Hunting Accident

05. December 2016

Birds of prey are impressive creatures. They are beautiful, nimble, agile, absolute aerial acrobats, but every now and then even the masters are a bit wrong. Yesterday we found a female sparrow hawk sitting on our parking lot. Normally, sparrow hawks get out of the way as soon as people approach them, but this one remained seated. Since this was a bit odd to us, our path did not go directly to the camera as usual, but to the sparrow hawk. She let us get up to a few centimeters, so it was clear that something could not be right. Wild birds of prey that let humans get so close to themselves need help.

We cautiously secured the bird with a blanket and put it in a carton in a warm room, where she could take a rest. She seemed apathetic at that time and reacted little to stimuli. There were no external injuries, she had a good weight for a lady, the plumage was complete and in good condition, the wing position seemed normal and the feet looked healthy. So it seemed to be a simple hunting accident. She probably flew against a car window while hunting for sparrows in the hedge nearby. While the sparrow hawk was resting, we tried to find a vet. In the middle of the countryside, on an advent-sunday and an election day. A thing of impossibility. Only a single veterinarian had responded to our calls, but he was already scheduled with an emergency operation. The next emergency clinic was located an hour drive away, and as the sparrow hawk was in good condition despite the apathy, we don't wanted to stress her with a long drive.

After a few hours some life came back into the bird. Her gaze grew more alert and clear, her reactions already were improving. The worst she had overcome. Although she was by no means accustomed to human beings, fortunately she was quite cooperative in letting supply her with water. But as night already had come and we wanted to introduce her to a vet to make sure there were no injuries, we decided to keep her with us until the next day. And since she showed no signs of stress and still seemed to be a bit "sleepy" despite the recovery, this was the best option we had.

The next day challenge was about finding a veterinarian willing to examine the bird. This proved to be more difficult than expected. They all had opened on a Monday morning, but their enthusiasm was still limited. We phoned through the whole area and were rejected by all, wild animals were not welcome. Soon as they heard "wild animal" they spontanously would not give us an appointment. Until we came across the relatively new Franciscan animal ambulance. They were ready to give us an appointment, even after regular ordination times, to save the sparrow hawk additional waiting times and stress. And as promised when we arrived, the waiting room was empty and we were greeted warmly. Finally under the X-ray machine, there were no visible fractures to our great pleasure. At the same time, we had found a name for the sparrow hawk with the two great vets - "Sabine Sparrow Hawk". Sabine got her final clearance for take off.

It could all have been different. Internal injuries or fractures would have prevented a start at least for the next months, perhaps she would never fly again and a permanent care place would have been necessary. Luckily, everything had gone smoothly. The lady had recovered within a day and made a wonderful start. She even did us the favor and perched at a nearby tree, where we could shoot a few more photos before she finally flew away. Take care Sabine, hopefully we'll soon see each other healthy and cheerfully again.


Nina Leitgeb & Raoul Reichebner

The sparrow hawk (Accipter nisus) is a bird of prey from the family of the Accipitridae, which looks very similar to the Goshawk. Sparrow hawks live in the forest, but are increasingly settled in towns and cities with generous green areas. They feed mainly from small to medium sized songbirds to the size of a dove but rarely also from small mammals as well as reptiles. Sparrow hawks have long been hunted as "small game hunters", although they occupy a very important and useful place as a predator.
In particular their aerial acrobatics have to be mentioned. When hunting they ambush their prey mostly near the ground and shoot like an arrow through dense branches. They can turn their flight directions by 90 °, even at high speeds, and carry out a turn on the spot by 180 ° - such maneuvers can hardly be grasped with the naked eye.

Here is a little insight from a BBC documentary about the flight acrobatics of the sparrow hawk.