Finding it was a surprise. As I strode up the street I could see someone hovering over it in the distance.
A pause – an unusual one – in their day.
A road casualty of a kind.
I naturally expected it to be a pigeon, flocks of these busy birds being prevalent all around the city. It was only when I stood over it that I realised it was a beautiful dead male sparrowhawk.
I tried to make sense of how it was here, lying by the path edge. The street is a side street really, and is only busy with people walking through, and large trundling delivery trucks taking goods to a department store’s warehouse. However, it’s also beside St. John’s Church, the oldest church in Leeds, Gothic in style and built in the seventeenth century, a church and graveyard raised high above the street, and surrounded by high old trees, and greenery. A rare pocket of special green space in Leeds’ sprawling centre. So perhaps the bird had launched at a gathering of smaller ones, sparrows perhaps in the trees which gather at the cafe there, and in the fury of its chase had flown into the path of a van.
A few tiny feathers from another bird wafted on one of its feet.
I’d recently finished working on a project commemorating the death of World War One Leeds soldier George Edwin Ellison and I think the parallel pathos of this bird of prey’s untimely death struck me.
In 2017 sparrowhawks started to hunt in the street where I live. I’d seen one fly direct into the centre of a holly tree in my garden, presumably intent on catching a sparrow. A flash of darkness, a scuffle in the stiff leaves, then it was gone. A few weeks earlier a goldfinch had flown over my head as I walked up the street, and there – heading straight at me, oblivious – was one focused sparrowhawk arrowing after it at speed. It was thrilling. It was too fast for me to see if it subsequently caught the finch.
I have seen the intensity of their hunts.
Having done my shopping I passed this one again, in the gutter edge, and this time I stopped and made some photographs. The beauty of its feathers astonished me. It was relatively unscathed. I was torn about leaving it there in the road. It was mid-afternoon and schoolchildren would soon be passing through the street – children who might feel drawn to ‘mess with it’.
So torn, that having got on the bus and travelled all the way home, all the while thinking about the rare opportunity to see it up close – I decided I had to go back to ‘rescue it’ and bring it home. For closer examination and a proper burial.
So this is what I did. ‘Nisus’ is the study of that sparrowhawk, and you can see the images I have been making of it by clicking the picture below.