The songbirds of the southern suburbs of Hobart had to be on their guard this summer – the brown goshawks and collared sparrowhawks had returned in force.
I’ve never seen such numbers of this winged army intent on causing mayhem and panic in the bottlebrushes and grevilleas.
I know the dark secrets of birds which prey solely on the fairy-wrens, robins and silvereyes so beloved of our gardens can appear cruel but the raptors are only going about the business they were designed for by Mother Nature. And in their own way these birds of prey can appear as elegant and beautiful as the more striking songbirds.
When I first moved into the Waterworks Valley on the fringe of South Hobart and Dynnyrne more than a decade ago, goshawks especially were very common. I didn’t often see them but the resident new holland honeyeaters in my garden told me they were about, three or four times a day.
The goshawks and the less common sparrowhawks rely on stealth and ambush to kill unsuspecting smaller birds either roosting or feeding in thick foliage, unlike other members of the hawk and eagle family which largely swoop on prey from high in the sky. For this reason, the goshawks, which fall into the accipitor group of hawks, are rarely obvious to the eye.
In my garden the new holland honeyeaters are the first birds to warn of danger with their hitch-pitched, churring alarm call, and when goshawks arrive this call goes into over-drive, before the new hollands finally fall silent, diving for cover in thick foliage.
The sightings of goshawks in my neighbourhood had died off in recent years, and I ascribed this to more intense suburban gardening in our valley, with an emphasis on chicken coops. Goshawks are the sworn enemy of chicken farmers and I thought perhaps they were being driven off by keen gardeners, or dying after ingesting rodents killed by powerful poisons put down to kill mice and rats.
The dangers of these poisons, and suggested controls on their use, have been much publicised recently and I can only surmise that this has aided the return of the goshawks. At the same time I have noted, at least in my valley, that the craze for self-sufficiency has died off in recent years and people are more likely to shop for their free-range eggs.
It’s good to have the goshawks, and their smaller cousins, the sparrowhawks, back. Looking out of my window in the first weeks of 2016, I actually saw a young brown goshawk menacing my new holland honeyeaters and there was been further good news with a female sparrowhawk, which in recent years has nested in a gum tree within sight of the city centre, producing a third brood of three offspring.
These young birds are now bringing their own brand of terror to the leafy banks of the Hobart Rivulet, from Barrack St to beyond the Cascade Gardens to the south.