Captive Japanese Sparrowhawk in Shanghai

Japanese Sparrowhawk
Captive Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis. (Craig Brelsford)

by Craig Brelsford

Elaine and I did a double-take today when, walking from the bus stop to the metro after birding Binjiang Forest Park here in Shanghai, we saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk on a specially made perch. I asked for the owner, who came out and told me his pet was legal, since he’s “raised him since he was young.” To prove his claim, he pointed out the ring on the sprock’s left tarsus, which displays his phone number. I still didn’t believe the sprock was legal, but I left off arguing with him, in part because I wanted to study his bird. It’s a real beauty, a juvenile in good condition. I must say I loved the opportunity to see a sprock up close. The first thing that struck me was the slightness of the bird—no bigger than a kestrel. Close inspection of the talons and bill brought home the reality that sprocks are meat-eaters, born for the hunt. And the eyes! Imagine if humans had eyes so large in proportion to the rest of the face. We would look like aliens. What visually biased creatures birds are, and especially sprocks. I identified this bird as Japanese Sparrowhawk on the basis of its small size, gular stripe, and combination of barring and streaking on the underparts. This bird wasn’t panicking at the sight of us, but it was jumping around a lot, suggesting that it had been caught recently.
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