This small bird of prey is about 35 centimetres long when perched. It has short, broad wings and a long tail, and in flight it uses a few quick wing beats followed by a short glide. The male has bluish-grey upper parts, with reddish-brown cheeks and a barred breast and belly. The female is noticeably larger than the male, grey above, with brownish-grey barred belly and breast.
The sparrowhawk lives in forests throughout Europe, but often hunts for birds in towns and cities. Birds from the northern parts of the range migrate south for winter.
When hunting, the sparrowhawk often flies low over the ground and makes surprise attacks. It preys on smaller birds, which it kills with its long claws.