By Fabio Veronesi (Flickr: P1080656) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Fabio Veronesi (Flickr: P1080656) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
When I sent out my short recent ‘newsblast’ to over 1300 people one of them replied as follows:

Angie525A [CC-BY-2.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Angie525A [CC-BY-2.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons

“No,don’t send me anymore of your crap.When you start considering all bird life instead of just raptors then by all means.I put a bird table up 30 yrs ago,had it full of garden birds untill (sic) the sparrow hawk found it a good place to dine.Now all that come are magpies and wood pigeons.God only knows what you see in such vermin.”


Thank you for your message and goodbye!

By the way – there was no mention of raptors in the ‘newsblast’ so I thought I’d better show you a few here.



But on a much more positive note I received this email (shortened and edited slightly by me to retain the sender’s anonymity) a little while ago:

I have just finished reading Fighting for Birds and feel compelled to send you a note to say thank you for writing it.

I am one of those elusive twenty-something female birders, embarking on a career change into ecology and conservation. I’m studying for an MSc in [an environmental subject] and I hope that this career path will put me in a position to influence decision making in favour of wildlife – whatever Mr. Osborne may say…

Anyway – your book has inspired me more than ever to be one of the good guys and to keep trying to get the message across, while giving me a better sense of the politics and challenges that surround nature conservation. You cover so many issues in the book, many of which I have not studied in depth yet, but feel that I know a lot more about now (biofuels, grouse shooting, CAP…). Very useful for someone who is just starting out and has a lot to learn! I also enjoy your blog and admire you for confronting prickly issues and not being afraid to take a controversial standpoint, while always offering a balanced and rational view.  I hope to have achieved as much as you have in 25 years’ time.

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.

Feedback, of either kind, is very welcome; both, in different ways, are encouraging!




29 Replies to “Feedback”

  1. Excellent stuff Mark. I hadn’t realised Richard Benyon had signed up for your news blast but what a shame he won’t get to hear about everything else.

    Your readers review of the excellent Fighting for Birds suggests to me that it should be on the escential reading list of all post and undergrads studying related disciplines. Wish you had written it 10 years ago then some of my fellow zoologists may have been inspired to be more than estate agents, telesales personnel and sales assistants as follow on careers.

  2. I think the young lady says it all. Every sixth form library and college should have a copy of your book in it.
    As for Sparrowhawks, rubbish, we have a Sparrowhawk hunting here, and yesterday we had in our garden , Bullfinches, Siskins, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, tits and Robins, and our course Woodpigeons and Magpies, most of them come everyday.

  3. I can’t remember if I told you this story but it was from an RSPB reserve. A local land owner came into the RSPB shop to buy a bird table. The warden said ‘I thought you had a bird table’. ‘I did but it flew across the garden when I shot at a Sparrowhawk which was stealing my wives’s tits’. The moral of the story is if you do not like Sparrowhawks then do not feed the birds!

  4. BTO recently published the Sparrowhawk map in their series of new atlas results. I was amazed how many new breeding squares there were in East Anglia – I had assumed the recovery from near extinction in the lowlands in the 60s and 70s was pretty much complete by the last Atlas (1991). A salutory reminder of how it took probably no more than a decade to destroy this population – 50 years to recover.

  5. Hello Mark,

    Perhaps you could point out to the Sparrowhawk ‘lover’ that there are 84 million pairs of breeding birds in the UK off which raptor species account for less than 150,000. That’s less than 0.2% by my old fashioned reckoning – puts it into perspective doesn’t it.

  6. The bird table owner is a bird lover who does not understand the whole picture. Potentially one of the good guys. Please don’t say goodbye. They feel about their sparrowhawk the way I feel about certain cats (not all). Perhaps they do not realise that their songbirds have evolved to live with sparrowhawks, but not new housing estates, decimated woodland, blue slug pellets, sterile farmland…

    Sometime, when you have time, couldn’t you write something for the Unscientific Naturalist? A beginners guide to what’s happening in the gardens. And the countryside, and the seas.

    We sometimes have a sparrowhawk too, and it is the highlight of our visitors. This morning there are song thrushes, tits, robins and blackbirds. Jackdaws, magpies, dunnocks and a goldcrest (eating suet pellets). The neighbour’s grey cat has just slunk under the car so I suppose I’d better go now and shoo them all away.

    1. Hilary, you have to try this out for your Goldcrest…soak some dried mealworms in warm water for 10-15 minutes, place them on a plate etc and then “spike” them on branches in your garden and any low down vegetation, Wrens and Goldcrest swarm to them like the proverbial bees to honey I have up to five Goldcrest in my Yew tree in the winter doing this method.

  7. Mark – I think it’s great that you have taken the feedback about considering more than just raptors on board, by including a house sparrow in one of your pictures – albeit a house sparrow with a really bad headache. As your kindly email correspondent said, it’s important to have a balanced approach. I would really appreciate it if in a future post you could please include some pictures of cute songbirds decapitating various brightly coloured insects, and some hungry caterpillars munching through some oak leaves? God knows what I see in such vermin, but it would make my day.

    PS Boris Johnson says we need to “do something” about urban foxes.

  8. One born every minute I’m afraid (the person with the table and sprawk), it’s the same as when people shove chickens in their backyard and then moan when a fox roams in and predates everything, it’s akin to opening a Kentucky Fried Chicken on a retail park and then moaning when groups of boy racers turn up…what were expecting to happen.
    I love my raptors, sparrowhawks especially, and my very urban garden sounds similar to that of HilaryMckay’s often getting a sprawk but the birds still come to the feeder. I too have seen a Sprawk glide along a setaside, it was making it’s way straight to a Linnet, when at the very last minute 100 Linnets and roughly the same numbers of Yellowhammers took flight towards the incoming Sprawk the Sprawk head was twisting and turning, back and forth and seemed confused as to what to try and grab, end result nothing in it’s talon, and I’ve seen this quite a lot so maybe it’s one flaw of them super sharp eyes that the moment there is too much movement it can’t focus on just one bird, I’ve also seen Swallows actually mob and attack a Sparrowhawk on numerous occasions (15 times during my Swallow watching last summer), so the Sparrowhawk ISN’T the ruthless/succesful hunter everyone will make you believe.

    1. Gert – that’s amazing and disturbing in equal measure – I wonder what the poor redpoll had done? Said rude things about the great tit’s mother? Looked at it’s pint?! I think it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Thanks for posting it.

      Last year I witnessed a sparrowhawk kill a white pigeon in the back garden of our then block of flats in N London. The pigeon wasn’t going quietly and it was a real fight to the death – with the Hollywood soundtrack of an almighty racket from the local magpies and carrion crows that were grandstanding from the big ash tree. These things are disturbing to watch especially for anyone who has the luxury of not having to actually carry out the act of killing their own food. I was caught between sympathy for the poor pigeon’s plight and admiration for the spawk; the latter won of course – and anyway that’s not the point, this is just nature working as it should and played out in a form that most of us rarely witness. Protracted as it was, it would have been a fairly quick clean kill compared with what must have been an terrifying and agonising death for the redpoll in the video.

      I did also once see a really vicious fight between a pair of male house sparrows – I thought they were going to kill each other, not least because they rolled under a passing car, much to the astonishment of the driver – somehow missing all four wheels. The eventual “victor” flew off, leaving the “loser” panting and stunned in the middle of the road. I thought it might die of shock or something, but a minute or two later it just flew off as though nothing had happened. Neither bird showed any apparent signs of injury (though of course I’d no way of knowing for sure).

      This sort of “proper” full on fight between birds of the same species must still be relatively rare I’d imagine – you do see male blackbirds getting fiesty with each other quite a lot for example but it’s usually just a brief skirmish. But a small bird attacking another of a different species must be incredibly rare. Or is it?

      Perhaps Mike could write a book about it called ‘Fighting Among Birds’?!

      Then there’s the story of the Mistle Thrush that took on thirteen magpies and won, but I’ll save that for another day…

      PS Just to clarify I’m not in favour of a cull of great tits. I love ’em. Although I hope the one in the video has had some anger management since then…

    2. It is a very sad day when so called ‘conservationists’ resort to releasing Great Tits which have been trained to kill other defenseless species in order to make a political point…a very sad day indeed.

  9. Think I agree entirely with the young lady and hope that for the good of wildlife she does fulfil her ambition and achieves as much as you have.
    Nice that she has set the bar really high and good luck to her.

  10. Thanks Douglas, will try meal worms, can’t feed low down because of cats, but it seems quite happy going between holly and birdtable and is very well hidden in holly, being the size and colour of underside of leaves. Like how it hardly retreats from stroppy blackbirds and robins.
    A long time ago we had a sparrowhawk that ate bird food from the birdtable. I particularly remember it eating apple crumble.
    Have no great hope that anyone will believe this, but it is true.

    1. It doesn’t surpise me actually Hilary. I’ve seen them take pigeon and hedgehog “roadkill”, I saw one try to take a bumble-bee, we have one pair nesting round our way and when we examined the nest after the breeding season we found a pair of boxer shorts!! But I also seen a Kestrel perched up with a Greenfinch on a telegraph pole, but thats nature, you think you’ve sussed it out and learnt everything then it chucks a curve ball at you.

  11. The Sparrowhawk that visits our garden hasn’t stopped the other other birds coming back. It’s fascinating to watch how the other birds work together and warn each other when the raptors are around.

    I watched a great documentary called The Secret Life of Sparrowhawks by David Culley from Northwich. It actually showed that a lot of smaller birds like passerines chose to live near the sparrowhawks and that the closer they are to the sparrowhawk the more successful they are in bringing up their young. It’s a great film to watch.

    1. Findlay, great points, a few years back at Rutland Water a Pied Wagtail made it’s nest right underneath the Osprey’s nest for protection I guess. I also agree it’s fascinating to see how other passerines work together to protect themselves from the Sparrowhawk, that comes from hundreds and hundreds of years of evolving and living side by side with each other, a point sadly missed by so MANY.

  12. Sparrow Hawks eat the sparrows which is fine by me as they are a pain in the grain stores, buzzards eat the rabbits which is great. Now if I could just find something that liked badgers ?

  13. You’ll never persuade some people Mark – but well done for remaining so even, I couldn’t do it. I’ve a photo of a juvenile Starling on my neighbour’s wall with a Sparrowhawk (female) squeezing the last bit of life out of it. It was a tough break on the Starling but something they have (presumably) been dealing with for thousands of years. A small flock is outside daily from Oct – Mar and always let me know when a Sprawk is about by the squadron formation they form overhead. That’s when they’re not spotted first …

  14. I too would like to say how inspiring your blog and book are Mark, in fact I would very much like to become a farmer (wildlife friendly of course).

    On the sparrowhawk saga, interesting how people don’t see the bigger picture. Maybe none of us do? But I always wonder why an odd sparrowhawk flying through a garden and killing some smaller bird (which is afterall only fatballs converted into protein and feathers) is so much worse than the thousand (millions?) of animals which are taken to slaughter houses every day to be killed to keep us all fat and healthy and with a plentiful supply of fresh meat (or leather for shoes if you are veggie). Do people not think about that when they go down to the supermarket? No matter how well the animals are treated, it surely can’t be better than the wild birds (or other animals for that matter) who lead natural lives and live and die as they are supposed to (and lets be honest, we don’t know how the majority die do we, they just disappear, decomposed by the plethora of interesting little bugs that do these things). Or maybe it’s just that we are all lucky enough not to have to kill our own food, so seeing the sparrowhawk getting his is all the more shocking, although apparently it’s ok for TV programmes to show the death of numerous antelope at the paws and claws of lions, cheetas and hyenas in Africa, and this is always all part of the “natural cycle of life and death”. Strange to think that predators in this country shouldn’t also be able to catch and eat their prey.

    I think something on a beginners guide to ecology, as suggested earlier could be helpful for some, but maybe here you preach mostly to the converted.

    1. “Do people not think about that when they go down to the supermarket?”

      No. In fact, it wasn’t until the development of the email calendar that people could remember on which days they were supposed to hunt, or gather.

  15. My little semi-urban garden has recently been getting more attention from a local sparrowhawk. I’m guessing its because there are more sparrows and other birds in the garden generally as my hedge has now grown a bit and with the few trees I’ve planted it can now offer more interest to the birds. I’m taking the spar’s visit as a sign that the garden is a better place for wildlife now, not worse.
    On a second issue, re. birds “hiding” in the shadow of larger predators; I used to work in a part of the peak district where goshawks can still be seen, (when not being shot by “some unknown people” ) and our local birders observed the gold crests and fire crests appearing to be more common in areas where the gos nested. Perhaps the gos, which didn’t lower themselves to eating tiny morsels like small passerines, put off any sparrowhawks making a safer area for small birds?

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