The black sparrowhawk, sometimes known as the black goshawk or great sparrowhawk, is the largest African member of the genus Accipiter of sparrowhawks and goshawks. Typically, both genders of the black sparrowhawk are pied black-and-white when mature; generally the plumage is predominantly black, but with a white chest and throat. Some individuals may have a tendency towards melanism, showing white only on the throat and spots on the belly. As a rule there is no noticeable difference between the plumage of mature females and males. The tails are cross-barred with about three or four paler stripes, and the undersides of the wings with perhaps four or five, but these are less well-defined. Young chicks have black eyes and white down, but when the feathers erupt they are predominantly brown. The full plumage of juveniles is a range of browns and russets with dark streaks along the head and, more conspicuously, down the chest. Commonly there are white or light-coloured spots and streaks as well, mainly on the wings.[2] The brown plumage being a sign of immaturity, it does not attract as dangerously aggressively territorial behaviour as the mature black-and-white would. As the young birds mature, their eyes change in colour from deep black, though brown, to red.

Habitat and Distribution

Black sparrowhawks are relatively widespread and common in sub-Saharan Africa and listed as not globally threatened by CITES. Densities range from one pair per 13 square kilometers in Kenya to one pair per 38-150 square kilometers in South Africa.


Black sparrowhawks prey primarily on mid-sized birds. Most prey is spotted from a foliage-concealed perch and then is killed in flight while on a short flying dash. Less often, they stoop or chase prey seen during low or high flight over open country or near the canopy of trees and, in some cases, may even pursue prey on foot. Although kills are often made in under a minute after the initial attack, occasionally this species may engage in a prolonged pursuit over several minutes. They have been known to scan for antswarms so they can predate birds attracted to them. Most birds preyed on by this species are in the size range of 80?300 g (2.8?10.6 oz).[5] However, they have taken guineafowl weighing up to 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). Doves are the primary prey of males, wheres females take a greater quantity of larger prey such as pigeons and francolins. With some regularity, they prey on other raptor species, including shikra, Ovambo sparrowhawk, African goshawk and wood owl. They often take species such as rock pigeons that have flourished due to urban growth and settlement. It is one of the few fortunate species that have been able to adapt to their changing habitat due to afforestation by taking advantage of the increase in dove and pigeon populations. They may also feed on poultry found in nearby villages, which have been inadvertently made available to them by humans. On occasion, they may supplement their diet with small mammals, such as rodents and juvenile mongooses. Black sparrowhawks can carry prey up to 12 km (7.5 mi), usually well above the canopy


The nests are made up of thousands of sticks collected by both parents and are usually lined with green eucalypt leaves, possibly to prevent pieces of meat from falling between the gaps and to deter carriers of diseases, such as mites and insects, due to the repelling smell of the leaves. The nests can measure from 50 to 70 cm (20 to 28 in) in width and 30?75 cm (12?30 in) deep. Black sparrowhawks form monogamous pairs and are known to attempt multiple brooding; at any one time, a mated pair has more than one nest with offspring of different ages.

Calls and Songs

Normally silent except during the breeding season. Males are known to make loud `keeyp` sounds while females make short `kek` sounds.