The Japanese Sparrowhawk and the lizard

The Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) is a bird of prey that migrates from Northern Asia to South-east Asia during the winter months. They are birds of open or wooded area. Normally one can more easily see them near grasslands in Singapore, preying on small birds like munias by swooping them up in flight with their superior flying ability.

One a fine morning in late October 2013, I was at Jelutong Tower to find some raptors in the forest as it was peak raptor migration period in Singapore. In the forest, it is harder to see them perched amidst all the trees and lower light level. The plan was to see them take to the sky once the warmth of the rising sun causes hot air to rise from the ground. Then the overnight roosting raptors, that are normally passaging through Singapore will start on their journey south to their wintering ground using the rising air as additional lift.

That morning I had the good fortune to find a Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and a male Japanese Sparrowhawk, the former being much rarer in Singapore and only the second photographic record locally. But I digress.

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(A male Japanese Sparrowhawk at Jelutong Tower, with red eyes mainly differentiating it from the female and juveniles with yellow eyes)

Fully satisfied with my find for the day, I made my way out of the forest via Rifle Range Link. Nearing a flat portion of the trail, there was a quick flash of a bird flying across. I hurriedly scanned the trees where it presumably landed. With a bit of effort, a raptor was sighted up on a tree trunk. Fortunately, there was a concrete structure around 1.2 meters tall that I climbed on to get a better view of the bird. It was immediately apparent that I was looking at a Japanese Sparrowhawk and it was staring back at me.

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(A juvenile Japanese Sparrowhawk on a near horizontal tree trunk looking warily at me. It differs from the adults with streaks on its breast, instead of pinkish-rufous barring in the same area)

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(A closer look revealed that it was grasping a headless agamid lizard with both its feet.)

Now Japanese Sparrowhawks and related sparrowhawks get their name from the fact that they specialize in hunting for sparrows or other small birds. So it is a bit of a surprise to see it with a lizard instead. Was it going to make a meal out of the lizard, or was it just practicing, as it is still a juvenile bird?

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(Looks like it’s indeed eating the lizard with a long tail)

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(As usual, it starts teasing meat from the front of the prey)

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(A look at the surrounding after every bite, seems to be its normal behaviour)

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(You can see that it separates the meat from the bones and skin here)

Japanese Sparrowhawk
(Finally, the tail swallowing act, with some bits left on its feet)

Once it swallowed the lizard’s tail, it immediately flew away. No wiping of its bill, no pooping. It was in a real hurry, perhaps to catch the morning updraft to join its fellow raptors for the journey to the south where they will spend their wintering months. A good breakfast helps. And I was in a real hurry to get back to process the pictures of a great birding day.

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