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Accipiter melanoleucus (Black sparrowhawk) 

Swartsperwer [Afrikaans]; Kakodi (generic term for sparrowhawks, goshawks, kestrels and falcons) [Kwangali]; Rukodzi (generic name for a small raptor such as falcon or sparrowhawk) [Shona]; Zwarte havik [Dutch]; Autour noir [French]; Mohrenhabicht, Trauerhabicht [German]; Açor-preto [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae > Genus: Accipiter

Accipiter melanoleucus (Black sparrowhawk)   

Black sparrowhawk. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]


Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is scarce to fairly common in Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), central Mozambique and South Africa. It generally favours forest and well-developed woodland, such as Kloof and riverine forest, Acacia savanna and miombo (Brachystegia) woodland; it may also occupy grassland, fynbos, fringes of the Karoo, agricultural land and suburbia.

Distribution of Black sparrowhawk in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Largely sedentary, although some records outside of its normal distribution range suggests that it may be nomadic at times.


It almost exclusively eats other birds, doing most of its hunting under the tree canopy, often catching prey from a concealed perch. It may pursue a bird for over a kilometre before making the kill; it has even been recorded to be cannibalistic! The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, performing a courtship display in which it calls loudly while in an undulating flight.
  • The nest is built by both sexes about 50-145 days before egg-laying, consisting of platform of sticks with an interior cup, which is thickly lined with green leaves, especially of Eucalyptus, Bushmans-tea (Catha edulis), Red-milkwood (Mimusops zeyheri), waterberries (Syzygium), Horn-pod tree (Diplorhynchus condylocarpon) and Musasa (Brachystegia spiciformis). It is typically placed in a fork of a tree branch in or just below the canopy. It has been recorded to use the following sites for breeding:
    • alien trees (used in roughly 65-90% of breeding attempts)
      • Eucalyptus
      • Populus (poplars)
      • Pinus (pines)
    • indigenous trees
      • Adansonia digitata (Baobab)
      • Acacia
        • A. robusta (River thorn)
        • A. nigrescens (Knob thorn)
        • A. galpinii (Monkey acacia)
      • Brachystegia glaucescens (Mountain-acacia)
      • Kirkia acuminata (White kirkia)
      • Anthocleista grandiflora (Forest big-leaf)
      • Avicennia marina (White mangrove)
      • Celtis africana (White-stinkwood)
      • Celtis mildbraedii (Red-fruit white-stinkwood)
      • Ekebergia capensis (Cape-ash)
      • Erythrina caffra (Coast coral-tree)
      • Ficus natalensis (Coastal strangler fig)
      • Ficus sycomorus (Sycomore fig)
      • Ilex mitis (African holly)
      • Philenoptera sutherlandii (Forest apple-leaf)
      • Olea europaea (African olive)
      • Podocarpus latifolius (River bushwillow)
      • Syzygium (waterberries)
      • Trichilia emetica (Natal-mahogany)
      • Trichilia dregeana (Forest natal-mahogany)
      • Euphorbia ingens (Giant euphorbia)
    • nests of other birds (instead of building its own)
  • Egg-laying season is from March-December, peaking twice in the Western Cape, from April-May and from August-September, while elsewhere it peaks from July-September.
  • It lays 1-4 eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 36-38 days, while the male feeds her regularly at the nest.
  • The chicks are brooded by the female for the first 22 days of their lives, after which she starts to join the male on hunting trips. The chicks start clambering around the nest tree at approximately 35-40 days old, leaving completely roughly 2-10 days later. They remain dependent on their parents for further 42-60 days, after which the adults leave the area, thus forcing their young to become fully independent.


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.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.