Edinburgh Urban Sparrowhawk Study

We have been monitoring the population of breeding Sparrowhawks in Edinburgh since 2009. This project surveyed just over 40 historical breeding sites, mostly within the by-pass boundary of the city, and is a repeat survey of an intensive study of Edinburgh Sparrowhawks carried out in the late 1980s (McGrady 1991). The monitoring programme is collecting information on breeding occupancy (evidence of site occupancy is recorded by locating Sparrowhawk prey pluckings, droppings and moulted female feathers), breeding numbers and productivity (number of chicks fledged by each breeding pair).

We are also collecting moulted female feathers at nest sites which will allow us to monitor female breeding turnover (how often different females change at traditional breeding sites). These feathers can be used to identify individual birds based on the extent and shape of the barring using the same principle as human finger prints.

Wing feathers of a young female sparrowhawk (taken from Michel Klemann: http://www.michelklemann.nl/verensite/start/index.html)

We also plan to test the effectiveness of this technique by sampling DNA (which identifies an individual based on unique DNA profiles/sequences) to estimate female breeding turnover. This work is being developed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Applied Conservation Genetics Department at the Edinburgh Zoo. In time this information can tell us a lot about how stable the Edinburgh Sparrowhawk population is. The results of this DNA analysis will be presented on this website in the future.

Another aspect to this study is an investigation in to the diet of breeding Sparrowhawks in Edinburgh. We have collected fresh prey remains from all occupied territories in Edinburgh since 2009. These prey remains are being analysed to see if there is variation in diet between different territories in the city and over the course of the breeding season. We will also compare the diet data between years to see if there have been any long term changes in the diet perhaps due to changes in song bird prey populations. The preliminary results of this diet analysis will be presented on this website in the near future.

The Edinburgh Hawkwatch Project is a Lothians and Borders Raptor Study Group initiative.