Black Sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus)

Black Sparrowhawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Accipiter melanoleucus | [authority] Smith, 1830 | [UK] Black Sparrowhawk | [FR] Autour noir | [DE] Mohrenhabicht | [ES] Azor blanquinegro | [NL] Zwarte Havik


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Accipiter are small and medium-sized hawks, often called Sparrow-hawks or Goshawks. The females are almost invariably much larger than the males – in some cases weighing twice as much – a level of size dimorphism only exceptionally reached in any other genus Falconiformes. Their wings are short and rounded; the tail usually quite long. They are well adapted for flying through dense bush. Bird-catching Sparrow-hawks generally have long and slender legs, with slender digits, the middle one being especially long. Goshawks are usually larger, with shorter, thicker tarsi and digits and a shorter middle digit. Some smaller species have goshawk-like feet and vice versa, making it difficult on a world-wide basis to subdivide the genus on this or any other broad basis. Although many accipiters feed upon birds moreso than do other hawks, some species take many mammals, especially squirrels; others take lizards, frogs, snakes, insects, even snails. In these species the legs and digits are sometimes slender, but short. Accipiters are rarely crested, but some have very attractive colour patterns. Black phases are present, especially in the tropical species. One in Australia has the only pure white phase. Accipiter is the largest genus in the family, having about fifty species. It is present worldwide, but is especially rich in Papua-New Guinea, where a small island like New Britain may have three to five endemic species or distinct sub-species.

Physical charateristics

A relatively large Accipiter, the plumage of the Black Goshawk is mainly black, but with variable amount of white below, ranging from almost entirely white, to black except for a white throat and undertail coverts. Juveniles are browner and have streaks to the underparts. The cere and legs are yellow.

Listen to the sound of Black Sparrowhawk

[audio: Sparrowhawk.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 100 cm wingspan max.: 110 cm
size min.: 46 cm size max.: 58 cm
incubation min.: 34 days incubation max.: 38 days
fledging min.: 37 days fledging max.: 47 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Africa : widespread


Occurs in forests of all types, especially those with tall trees, including small patches of montane and riparian woodland and exotic tree plantations, including eucalyptus and pines. Normally perches high in trees and is readily overlooked because it is often hidden in the canopy. usually seen in pairs.


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, adding more material annually until some nests are as large as those of eagles. Both members of the pair build or refurbish the nest, but only the female incubates. She is fed by the male during the incubation period, which lasts 37-38 days, and during the early nestling period, which is about 45 days. Clutch size is usually 3-4 eggs for experienced pairs. Most broods fledge during October and November, when many smaller birds are breeding and producing young

Feeding habits

Preys mostly on birds, which it captures after low, fast flights from a perch. Because of the extreme size dimorphism in this species, there are sexual differences in prey selection. Males typically hunt dove-sized birds, and the much larger females take gamebird species, including francolins and even guineafowl.

Video Black Sparrowhawk


copyright: Josep del Hoyo


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Black Sparrowhawk status Least Concern


Irruptive or local migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas. There is some vagrancy, probably representing post-breeding dispersal. It is probably regarded this species as sedentary in Zimbabwe

Distribution map

Black Sparrowhawk distribution range map

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