Ovambo Sparrowhawk (Accipiter ovampensis)

Ovambo Sparrowhawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Accipiter ovampensis | [authority] Gurney, 1875 | [UK] Ovambo Sparrowhawk | [FR] Epervier de l’Ovampo | [DE] Ovambosperber | [ES] Gavilan del ovampo | [NL] Ovambo-sperwer


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Accipiter ovampensis AF ne, sc


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

With its relatively long, pointed wings and short legs, the Ovampo sparrowhawk more closely resembles a small falcon than a sparrowhawk in appearance. The head is small and rather snaky, with a black beak, the tail is squared, the toes are relatively long, and the species is also readily distinguished by the dark red, almost black eyes, and the orange-red legs and cere. The adult male Ovampo sparrowhawk is grey above, with white markings on the rump, fine barring below (including on the throat and the thighs), and bands on the tail and flight feathers. The central parts of the tail feathers bear white spots. The female is much larger than the male, and browner above. A rare dark (melanistic) morph also sometimes occurs, which is overall blackish-brown, but still has the tail and underwing patterns of the grey morph, with the banded flight feathers contrasting strongly with black wing linings .

wingspan min.: 60 cm wingspan max.: 75 cm
size min.: 30 cm size max.: 40 cm
incubation min.: 33 days incubation max.: 36 days
fledging min.: 30 days fledging max.: 35 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 5  


Africa : Northeast, Southcentral. The Ovampo sparrowhawk is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia, and south to Angola, Namibia, Botswana and northern South Africa


It inhabits forest, woodland and exotic tree plantations, often moving into surrounding open areas of savanna and grassland when hunting


Breeding takes place between August and January in southern Africa, and has been recorded in May and September in Kenya, although the breeding season elsewhere is little known. During courtship, the male and female soar and circle together while calling. The nest, usually built in the crown of a tall tree, is a relatively small structure of fine sticks, and is lined with twigs, bark and leaves . Between 1 and 5 eggs are laid (usually 3), and are incubated for 33 to 36 days. The young sparrowhawks fledge at around 33 days old.

Feeding habits

The Ovambo sparrowhawk feeds mainly on small birds, the female taking larger prey than the male, up to the size of doves. Some flying insects may also be taken, and hunting takes place during flight, including by stoops from height, or from fast dashes from a high perch. As well as resembling a small falcon in appearance, this species is also falcon-like in its hunting behaviour, and often chases prey in open areas

Video Ovambo Sparrowhawk


copyright: Pond Patty


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 increasing, 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.
Although apparently uncommon in East and West Africa, the Ovampo sparrowhawk is a widespread species and is locally common in southern Africa, where stands of exotic trees have allowed it to expand its range into otherwise open grassland regions. The species may be affected by the cutting of woodland, and its breeding success may be low in some areas due to contamination with pesticides, but overall its population appears to be increasing, and it is not believed to be at risk of extinction
Ovambo Sparrowhawk status Least Concern


Resident in South Africa but generally a secretive species. Thought to enter some marginal areas in East Africa only temporarily, probably from Central African woodlands; to some extent nomadic in E Africa. Possibly only a non-breeding migrant during the wet season (Jun-Oct) to West Africa, where has been recorded West to Sierra Leone and Senegambia.

Distribution map

Ovambo Sparrowhawk distribution range map

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