Sparrowhawk Head Study


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This rather odd little piece started life as an illustrated demo in my long-gone website about how to carve the head of a Eurasian sparrowhawk from start to finish (this was years before the advent of YouTube). When it was done I figured what the hell, make it formal, but not the same presentation atop a wood column.

The cylinder is granite, and the markings are vaguely reminiscent of the barring on a sparrowhawk's breast. The base is pyritic quartz for no special reason, I just liked the look. I got these materials from a gent who formerly worked in the granite industry in Barre, VT and had his own business making spectacular fountains out of polished granite, petrified wood and so on. He also gave me enough of the cement he uses to assemble these things, a sort of gooey grey sludge that gives an amazingly strong bond. I don't know what it is, but it isn't two-part, so it's not epoxy putty.

I don't really know if the piece works--looks like it should be a pen holder! But I think I did manage to capture the high-strung, hair trigger nervousness typical of sparrowhawks and other small true hawks, of which there are many throughout the world.

The line of hard grain just behind the eye is something that can occur with tupelo and can't be gotten rid of.

Some in the US still call the American kestrel by the old and incorrect colloquial name sparrow hawk (just as the merlin used to be called a pigeon hawk and the peregrine a duck hawk). But the kestrel is actually a falcon and the sparrowhawk is an accipiter-- they aren't closely related. Our NA closest relative is the sharpshin. The rule in falconry is that all falcons may be also called hawks, but not all hawks are falcons.

Her informal name is Cleo, after Cleopatra, since the black rings around the eyes look sorta like kohl. Unfortunately, I don't have any good pics of her facing left. Around 9" high; the head is around one and a half times life-size.

Cleo, 1997
24KT gold leaf
VT granite
Pyritic quartz


Cleo Full Front 2.JPG

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Beautiful. The detail is amazing. I feel as if I could stroke the feathers and they would be soft even though it is a sculpture.
Thanks. Getting that soft look is a matter of texturing and burning with a pyrography tool, and judicious paint application. The paint must be the right consistency, which is a little dicey without practice. On this one the throat and breast are textured only with the edge of a small aluminum oxide cylinder. The rest is textured the same way and then burned.
I always learn a lot from your posts. It's interesting to hear how you get so much detail in the feathers - the texture is wonderful. I love the base too.

We used to get sparrowhawks on and over the garden every so often when I lived back home. We always had food out for the birds (sparrows mainly) and so I think the sparrowhawk kept an eye on us.
Thanks, Triduana and Maureen.

From what I've heard, sparrowhawks have recovered so well from being close to extirpated in the 60s they've now become a real problem at bird feeders. There are too many, and they are ravaging songbird populations, especially sparrows. I very much doubt they're as much of a problem as cats, which kill more small birds and animals than all other predators, but they need to be culled.

J.A. Baker, author of The Peregrine, wrote the best description of sparrowhawk gestalt I've ever read. The book was written in 67, when spar populations were at their lowest.

"Sparrowhawks were always near me in the dusk, like something I meant to say but could never quite remember."

Later on, he closes a page and a half on an encounter with a spar this way--

“The sparrowhawk lurks in dusk; in true dusk, in the dusk before dawn, in the dusty, cobbywebby dusk of hazel and hornbeam, in the thick gloomy dusk of firs and larches. It will fold into a tree as though it had been thrown there, reminding me of the sticks I used to throw into chestnut trees to dislodge conkers. Suddenly a stick would wedge in a branch and be lost, and nothing could be done about it. The sparrowhawk can be like that: you see it fly in, but you do not see it go. You have lost it.”

That is exactly right about spars, and sharpies, both of which can plunge into the densest cover in pursuit of small birds and leave not a vibrating twig in their wake. Their reflexes are so fast they seem to be able to predict what the quarry will do before it does it. You see them fly in (if you're lucky), but you do not see them go. I've seen sharpies do this.
Beautiful quotes Musket ... so descriptive.

We used to have many sparrows living in our garden hedge, now I'm lucky to see a single family .... they are rare but I see sparrowhawks only very occasionally, and usually out in the fields..... magpies are dangerous birds here!
Lovely quotes Musket. Yes it's amazing to see them fly through trees and not disturb a branch. And they're so quick too.
Thank you.

Baker, in his incomparable descriptive prose, says this about looking into the eyes of a spar from thirty yards away with a spotting scope.

"They were a blazing blankness, an utterly terrifying insanity of searing yellow, raging and seething like sulphurous craters. They seemed to shine in the dimness like jellies of yellow blood."

Spars retain yellow eyes into adulthood, but the eyes of an adult sharpie change from yellow to blood red. I once saw a sharpie take a bluejay on the back lawn at our old place, not thirty feet from our upstairs kitchen window, through 7 x35 Nikon binoculars. Take it from me, change the color and that's exactly what I saw, looking straight into its eyes. The true hawks, the smaller ones in particular, seem to have retained more of their dinosaurian heritage than other raptors. They're small, but they are scary.
At the risk of being too much the expert, if you want a portrait of a true hawk, 2D or 3D, to look more sinister, make the pupil small. The idea with Cleo was "I'm nervous as hell," hence the enlarged pupil. With Bela the sharpie, who I posted in Sculpture, it was "I want to kill something." Her pupils are correspondingly smaller (as are the pupils of the spar Baker describes, and were of the sharpie I saw mantling over a blue jay). This is as close as I could get to the look Baker describes--


Thanks again to everyone for the props. Much appreciated.
musket - Wonderful pieces, and I've loved reading your words - and Baker's - in this thread (thanks so much for posting those quotes - have added The Peregrine to my must-read stash!). So fascinating to see the result of the different pupil size on the feel and character.

If you're going to read The Peregrine, I suggest this edition.

The Peregrine 50th Anniversary Edition

It contains the most up to date account of Baker himself, about whom almost nothing was known when the book was published in 1967, and several other essays that will be useful, by other outstanding nature writers. The third and longest section of the book, "The Hunting Life," is for sipping, not gulping. At least for me. To try to read it straight through is too much.

Here are two reviews that will give you some idea of what you'll be in for.

New Yorker Review

Guardian Review

The review in the Guardian, by Robert Macfarlane, himself one of the best of the "new nature writers," actually forms the preface to the 50th Anniversary Edition.

The Peregrine was the first book I borrowed from the Nazareth, PA Public Library when I was working in Nazareth for Martin Guitars in 1969, two years after the book's publication. "Oh boy, a book about peregrines!" I thought. I got way more than I bargained for.
So much more beautiful than seeing this stuff on my phone...I look at the forum on my phone at night and come back in the morning and look on my desktop to answer everything. That's when I look more carefully. What a huge difference. What incredible animals.
Really appreciate the edition recommendation, musket. I'm a huge fan of anything to do with nature & the British landscape, so I'm really looking forward to getting hold of this.
Thanks Musket: this book is going on my Christmas list. 👍

I once had a peregrine skim over the top of my head at some speed as it dived for a red grouse on the next hill over from where I was sitting. I felt a whoosh and then saw the impact - nothing in between. That kind of thing stays with you.
Welcome. I hope you both enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it. My copy of the original hardcover has so many bookmarks for favorite passages, it's ridiculous.

Thanks again to everyone for the props for Cleo. It's the only one of my pieces I've wondered about--does this really work?
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