Books  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Birds of Prey 

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

Paperback | Jun 2017 | #234242 | ISBN-13: 9780691175720
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £14.99 $20/€17 approx
Hardback | Jun 2014 | #211300 | ISBN-13: 9780691157641
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £37.95 $50/€43 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

"A book to be read right through or dipped into at leisure, A Sparrowhawk's Lament is a fitting tribute to our birds of prey and those who work to conserve them. Whether beginner or specialist, everyone will learn something about our formidable, yet vulnerable diurnal raptors."
– Curious Naturalist Blog

"Engrossing and enjoyable to read."
– David Lewis, Birds from Behind

"David Cobham has written a very understandable biology and history of birds of prey. It was a pleasure to read the words, but the content was, of necessity, sometimes disturbing. I would recommend this book to all who like birds, particularly raptors. British birders and those who visit (like me) will gain a lot of valuable information. It would make a great present to anyone studying hawks."
– Roy John, Canadian Field Naturalist

"[A] comprehensive and important historical record."
– Sussex Wildlife Trust

"A very detailed and engrossing account of the health or otherwise of Britain's birds of prey."
– Michael McCarthy, Independent

"This excellent book has detailed, entertaining accounts of the 15 species of diurnal raptors (falcons, hawks, eagles) breeding in Great Britain. Embellishing the text are 93 superb drawings by wildlife artist Pearson. His artwork has a soft, pastel, chalk-like quality and consists only of shades of gray and white, yet is precise. Cobham draws on his vast experience studying raptors, captive breeding, conservation, and re-establishing rare species. He offers penetrating glimpses into the history of these fascinating birds, sometimes going back centuries, and the unusual people who are drawn to them."

"This is a book that will delight general ornithologists and birders, as well as those who see raptors as the summit of avian evolution."
– Charles H. Middleburgh, Charles Middleburgh Blog

"Having studied birds for over 70 years I thought I knew quite a bit about birds of prey, but through reading this book I have learnt far more."
– Bryan Sage, Country-Side

"This is an interesting and educational book for raptor lovers and others seeking to learn about the raptors of Great Britain."
– R.E.H., Wildlife Activist


"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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