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A Sparrowhawk's Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey are Faring

By: David Cobham (Author), Bruce Pearson (Illustrator), Chris Packham (Foreword By)

272 pages, 80 b/w illustrations

Princeton University Press

Hardback | Jun 2014 | #211300 | ISBN-13: 9780691157641
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £24.95 $32/€30 approx

About this book

Read an interview with the author here

Britain is home to fifteen species of breeding birds of prey, from the hedgerow-hopping Sparrowhawk to the breathtaking White-tailed Eagle. In this handsomely illustrated book, acclaimed British filmmaker and naturalist David Cobham offers unique and deeply personal insights into Britain's birds of prey and how they are faring today. He delves into the history of these marvelous birds and talks in depth with the scientists and conservationists who are striving to safeguard them. In doing so, he profiles the writers, poets, and filmmakers who have done so much to change the public's perception of birds of prey. Thanks to popular television programs, the Victorian myth that any bird with a hooked beak is evil has been dispelled. However, although there are success stories – five birds of prey that were extinct have become reestablished with viable populations – persecution is still rife: so much so that one bird of prey, the Hen Harrier, became extinct in England as a breeding bird in 2013.

Featuring drawings by famed wildlife artist Bruce Pearson, A Sparrowhawk's Lament reveals why we must cherish and celebrate our birds of prey, and why we neglect them at our peril. In A Sparrowhawk's Lament, you will learn how the perfection of the double-barreled shotgun sounded a death knell for British birds of prey in the nineteenth century, how the conscription of gamekeepers during two world wars gave them a temporary reprieve, how their fortunes changed yet again with the introduction of agricultural pesticides in the 1950s, why birds of prey are vital to Britain's ecosystems and cultural heritage – and much more.


"The real strength of the book is the sheer detail that Cobham gets into his writing [...] Engrossing, entertaining and covering a vast range of subjects, this is a highly recommended read."
– Matt Merritt, Birdwatching Magazine

"Engaging reading. The book will remain a firm favourite with those, like me, for whom these are special birds."
– Mike Toms, BBC Wildlife Magazine

"Marvellous and touching."
– Trevor Heaton, Eastern Daily Press (Weekend)

"From the beginning I was struck with the detail and sheer readability of the text and finished the first 40 pages of the Introduction, The Sparrowhawk and The Osprey without a break [...] A Sparrowhawk's Lament is a desirable little volume which I thoroughly enjoyed, and one I can recommend to blog readers for the next rainy, non-birding day."
– Phil Slade, Another Bird Blog

"Each of these stories (and others) is addressed in detail, providing a comprehensive and important historical record. Indeed the book's major achievement is its thoroughness – Cobham has spared no pains in his travelling, in his research and in his collaborations [...] This is a thorough and comprehensive account of Britain's birds of prey and our long and complex relationship with them."
– Andy Stoddart,

"A thoughtful and deeply personal book by someone who has spent a lifetime indulging his keen interest in Britain's 15 breeding birds of prey."
– Ian Carter, British Birds

"Rich in cultural detail, descriptive illustrations, and personal recollections, A Sparrowhawk's Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring paints a canvas demonstrating how cultural perceptions can be changed to improve conservation outcomes."
– Gabriel Thoumi,

"The book is an uplifting tale of wonderful birds, some great places and a lot of gifted raptor enthusiasts."
– Mark Avery, Birdwatch

"[T]he book pulls no punches and is one of the best books about birds of prey I have read."
– RC, Highland News

"In this illuminating book, David Cobham brings the struggle that many of our birds of prey face living in the modern world into sharp focus.

All fifteen species that breed in the UK have their own account but the strength of the book comes as a result of meticulous research into the very latest population estimates and the historic background to current bird of prey distributions. The beauty of the book comes in David’s own encounters with our birds of prey, sometimes accidental, sometimes as a result of a lot of effort from both David and enlisted experts in the field.

The book is brought to life by Bruce Pearson’s beautiful illustrations, my personal favourite being the one showing Sparrowhawks migrating out of Sweden. If you are looking for an insightful, entertaining and in-depth look at Britain’s birds of prey, and where they are today, this book will take some beating."

- Paul Stancliffe, BTO book reviews, September 2014


Foreword 5
Introduction 6
The Sparrowhawk 9
The Osprey 26
The Honey Buzzard 42
The Red Kite 59
The White-tailed Eagle 77
The Marsh Harrier 95
The Hen Harrier 112
The Montagu's Harrier 131
The Goshawk 148
The Common Buzzard 165
The Golden Eagle 183
The Kestrel 203
The Merlin 218
The Hobby 237
The Peregrine Falcon 253
Conclusion 269
Further reading 270
Acknowledgements 271

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David Cobham is a renowned British film and television producer and director, notable for such films as The Goshawk, The Vanishing Hedgerows, and Tarka the Otter. He is a vice president of the Hawk and Owl Trust.

Bruce Pearson is one of Britain's best-known wildlife artists. His books include Troubled Waters: Trailing the Albatross, an Artist's Journey; Birdscape; and An Artist on Migration.

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