Death in the garden

Wood pigeon killed and eaten by sparrowhawk. Little left except head wings and gizzard

Wood pigeon killed and eaten by sparrowhawk. Little left except head wings and gizzard

I watched a woodpigeon in the wood yesterday morning. It was walking up and down a path I have through the wood, bounded by a netting fence to keep my ducks inside the wood. It was reminiscent of a pheasant, the way these daft birds walk up and down a fence looking for a way through rather than flying over the top.

The woodpigeon persisted in this behaviour for a good ten minutes while I was working in the office. I at last had a look through the binoculars, thinking it was a juvenile, but no, it had a white ring round its neck which only develops as they grow into adulthood. There seemed to be no damaged wings, nor did it seem to have the dull lack-lustre look of a bird of animal that is unwell.

I forgot about the pigeon, but it was certainly unwell this morning when I went out. A sparrowhawk had taken it, almost certainly a female as a woodpigeon might be just too big for the smaller male. The remains of the body lay on the path in the centre of a ring of white feathers, clear evidence of plucking by a bird of prey rather than being eaten by a mammal. Almost no meat remained, with the body now reduced to a skeleton still retaining a head (the head often being absent in a peregrine kill,) wings and the gizzard, obviously a very unpalatable part of the viscera.

Whatever was wrong with the pigeon before its demise it clearly provided an easy meal for a predator. I wonder if the sparrowhawk had made two meals of the pigeon or if even another sparrowhawk had taken advantage of what was left. This would certainly be possible as sparrowhawks come readily to a dead bird, hence the reason they are so easy for someone to poison or trap. Peregrines, on the other hand, rarely come to a dead bird unless it is one of their own kills.

Predators of any kind are fascinating, though of course their survival is dependent on sufficiency of prey. There are meantime plenty birds of all sorts in the garden and the wood to keep the local pair of sparrowhawks  in food until next summer’s boom time of young birds provide a feast of easy pickings again.

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