Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk (Accipiter rufiventris)

Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Accipiter rufiventris | [authority] Smith, 1830 | [UK] Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk | [FR] Epervier menu | [DE] Rotbauch-Sperber | [ES] Gavilan papirrufo | [NL] Afrikaanse Sperwer


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

Length: 29-36 cm. Females (200 g) larger than males (120 g). In southern Africa, the unmarked rufous underparts are diagnostic. Upperparts slate grey, long tail broadly barred black and grey. Throat is buffy, cheecks to belly rufous; eyes, cere and legs yellow. Underparts streaked and barred rufous. Head head and neck als slaty grey, hooded appearance.

Listen to the sound of Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk

[audio: Sparrowhawk.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 70 cm wingspan max.: 74 cm
size min.: 33 cm size max.: 40 cm
incubation min.: 33 days incubation max.: 35 days
fledging min.: 31 days fledging max.: 36 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Africa : East, Southeast, South


Inhabits patches of montane forest within grasslands. In southern Africa, it also occurs in exotic pine and poplar plantations within open steppe, grassland habitats, gardens, and adjacent open country with hill slopes and cliff faces


Builds a small stick nest placed high in a tree at the forest edge. The nest is lined with leaves, bark and moss. Clutch size is 2-4 eggs which are incubated for about 34 days. Young fledge after 4 to 5 weeks more after which they are fed for another 3 to 6 weeks.

Feeding habits

Preys mainly on small open-country birds, including young francolins, doves, larks, popits, longclaws, and canaries, usually captured on the wing. Also strikes from a perch, descending to the ground to capture insects, reptiles, and small mammals. In Malawi and Zambia, it hunts in low flight, frequently along roads

Video Rufous-breasted 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). 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 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.
Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk status Least Concern


Irruptive or local migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas. Also an altitudinal migrant in some areas. Some regard this species as sedentary in Zimbabwe.

Distribution map

Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk distribution range map

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