Saturday, 19 November 2011

Get Orfff moy Laand!

Tim was peacefully looking out of the window this morning when he saw two crows escorting a large sparrowhawk off the premises. A very large sparrowhawk. Bigger, in fact, than the crows. In fact, it was a goshawk (accipiter gentilis) [autour des palombes]. We thought we'd seen one before, but weren't sure, although they are believed to nest in our commune. The English name derives from the anglo-saxon for "goosehawk", and the French name means "around the woodpigeons" - both these names give an impression of the size of prey the goshawk is capable of taking out. For this reason, the goshawk was popular in falconry. Here's a lovely picture from the BBC's Nature website.

In Britain, the goshawk was blamed for the death of game birds and, between the gamekeepers and the egg-collectors, became extinct in the 19th century. Escaped falconry birds and others from continental Europe have re-established a small population. They are still persecuted by the small number of egg-collecting criminal monsters.
In rural France, goshawks were treated as vermin (nuisibles) for their taste for creatures that humans like to eat, both wild and tame - "espèces gibier ou de basse cour". They have been protected since 1976, and their numbers are believed to be rising. This area has a great deal of their preferred open woodland habitat, and they have an excellent choice of prey - squirrels, rabbits, hares, voles, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, crows, starlings, thrushes.... but they are by no means common and it's lovely to know they are around. I love the expression la basse cour for the small domestic creatures such as fowl and rabbits that were so often to be the domain of the farmer's wife and children.

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