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Aves bird of the week - Black Sparrowhawk - Accipiter melanoleucus

Black Sparrowhawk

The Black Sparrowhawk - Accipiter melanoleucus - is the largest African member of the genus Accipiter. There are currently two recognised subspecies of Black Sparrowhawk, which occupy different regions within this species’ extensive range. Accipiter melanoleucus temminckii is found from Senegal, eastwards to Gabon, Congo and Central African Republic, while Accipiter melanoleucus melanoleucus occurs in eastern Sudan and north-west Ethiopia, as well as in much of Central and southern Africa. It occurs mainly in forests and non-desert areas south of the Sahara, particularly where there are large trees suitable for nesting.


The Black Sparrowhawk is a distinctive bird of prey with conspicuous black and white plumage, rounded wing tips and a long tail. The plumage is predominantly black with a white chest and throat. The tails are cross-barred with about three or four paler stripes, and the undersides of the wings with perhaps four or five, but these are less well-defined. The cere and legs are yellow. Males are smaller than females.


Males make loud “keeyp” call while females make short “kek” call.


They prey primarily on birds, from small Doves to Hadeda and Guineafowl. They often take doves and pigeons that have flourished due to urban growth and settlement. It is one of the more fortunate species that have been able to adapt to their changing habitat due to afforestation by taking advantage of the increase in dove and pigeon populations. The main hunting technique is to perch on a tree, concealed amongst the foliage, from which it makes a rapid dash to intercept its unsuspecting prey.


The Black Sparrowhawk’s breeding season varies according to location, with populations in West Africa breeding from August to November, while those in Central and southern Africa mainly breed from May to October. These birds are particular about their nest sites. They prefer sites within the tree canopy, to protect their offspring from adverse weather conditions and other predators. The large stick nest is placed high in a tree, frequently a eucalytpus or other exotic species. Unlike most accipiters, this species often re-uses the same nest in successive years. Both parents build the nest. The female lays 1 to 4 eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for between 36 to 38 days, while the male feeds her regularly at the nest. The young fledge between 40 to 47 days. During brooding the Black Sparrowhawk employs an ingenious form of pest control. It lines the nest with strong-smelling eucalyptus leaves, which repel invertebrate pests and parasites, such as blood-sucking mites, that may harm the young.

Conservation Status – Least Concern


The main threat is deforestation, however they are not threatened, in fact its range and population have increased due to the spread of alien trees, which it commonly uses as nest sites. It is frequently killed because of its tendency to hunt homing pigeons and poultry, but this practice does not seem to be seriously impacting its numbers yet.




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