In previous blog posts I’ve written that we’ve been granted a license to take a wild sparrowhawk chick from a nest this spring for the purpose of falconry. Of course to take a chick you need a nest first and searching for a nest of one of the most illusive birds of prey in Europe is a difficult task. We’ve looked for signs and clues in several places, searching mostly mixed woodland around where we live and work.
Often when searching for the signs of sparrowhawks deep in the woods we find remains of plucked birds – their bones, beaks, and feathers.
Sometimes we are lucky and we find a whole skull too.
These trophies are hard won and every our outing is comparable to detective’s work – looking for small feathers on mossy ground in a large woodland isn’t an easy task. Feathers are usually arranged on a plucking post or several plucking posts – usually a stump of a fallen tree trunk where a musket, a male sparrowhawk, plucks small birds before taking them to feed his female.
Can you spot a plucking post here?
Finding feathers, at least in theory, means there might be a nest nearby. But sparrowhawk’s rituals are complex, their habits are not rigid, they don’t obey the written text in the books about falconry.
But the act of searching has an enormous pleasure for me. The place comes into clear focus as I near the ground and as I observe the details up close.
I often end up crawling on my knees through densely planted sitka spruce to get to some beautiful clearing with promising stumps I’d spotted earlier. I scan every inch through my imaginary “feather goggles” as I go along. Sometimes I find spar’s castings, a mass of feathers that she regurgitates before she kills and plucks another blackbird.
The intensity of search means it’s not always easy to mentally “come back” from the land of sparrowhawks, to fully “exit” the woods. I feel like part of me remains in the woods when I leave. A part of me goes wild.
But after every outing we also bring nature home indoors and into our human world – we return with feathers, skulls, bones, photographs, audio recordings, and of course stories which we document in the Wild Take podcast.
The boundaries between our human and non-human worlds become less pronounced as we progress in our search. “Rewilding… is about resisting the urge to control nature and allowing it to find its own way”, writes George Monbiot in Feral. I feel that nature has certainly found its way into our lives and our lives are becoming more connected to this illusive and almost mythical sparrowhawk we are seeking from the wild.