Little Sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus)

Little Sparrowhawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Accipiter minullus | [authority] Daudin, 1800 | [UK] Little Sparrowhawk | [FR] Epervier minule | [DE] Zwergsperber | [ES] Gavilancito Chico | [NL] Oostafrikaanse Dwergsperwer


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

The little sparrowhawk is also readily distinguished by the two white spots on the upperside of its central tail feathers, which contrast with the dark upperparts, and by a white bar on the rump. The male has dark grey upperparts, a white throat, and white underparts with fine reddish-brown barring, while the female is larger and dark brown above, with broader brown bars below. The eye and cere are yellow, the beak black, and the long legs and feet are yellow. Individuals have a variable amount of reddish-brown on the flanks, which is more notable in males. The juvenile is browner than the adults, and has large, round spots on the underparts, as well as a slightly paler.

Listen to the sound of Little Sparrowhawk

[audio: Sparrowhawk.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 37 cm wingspan max.: 41 cm
size min.: 23 cm size max.: 27 cm
incubation min.: 31 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 25 days fledging max.: 27 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


Africa : South, Southcentral, East. The little sparrowhawk is widespread in eastern, central and southern Africa, from southern Sudan and Ethiopia, south to South Africa, and west to Angola and Namibia


Widespread and likely common in many areas, but unobtrusive and probably overlooked. This species inhabits patches of woodland and forest, typically along rivers or in valleys. It also uses exotic tree plantations, which has allowed it to colonise drier, more open savanna areas


The breeding season of the little sparrowhawk varies with location, ranging from March to April in north-eastern Africa, to October to November in western Kenya, and September to February in southern Africa. The nest is small, and built from a platform of sticks, often well hidden in a high fork of a tree and lined with fine twigs and green leaves. Clutch size ranges from 1 to 3 eggs (usually 2), which hatch after an incubation period of 31 to 32 days, the young fledging at 25 to 27 days old.

Feeding habits

This small hawk flies with a fast, swerving flight and is quick and agile in the air, taking most prey on the wing after short dashes from cover. The diet consists mainly of small birds, although some bats, lizards and insects are also taken. Some prey is pursued to the ground.

Video Little Sparrowhawk


copyright: Ron Hoff


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). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to 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.
At 85 g (3 oz) and 23 cm (9 in), it is the world’s smallest Accipiter and possibly the smallest member of the diverse family Accipitridae.
Little Sparrowhawk status Least Concern



Distribution map

Little Sparrowhawk distribution range map

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