“Hooked bill, barring in the tail, quick flight pattern…it is definitely an accipiter!”
But, what exactly does that mean? Accipiter is a term that is often quite loosely thrown around to refer to any small raptor or bird of prey. While this is not entirely false, I decided it was time to clear up the matter. An Accipiter is a taxonomic term referring to a genus within the sub-family Acciptrinae. And this is when most of us (myself included) start losing interest. Taxonomy is a complex and intricate field with constant updates as new research comes to the fore making it quite tough to keep up with. Quite specifically Accipiters refer to the goshawk and sparrowhawk species of which there are six in Southern Africa. Trevor Carnaby explains in his book, Beat About the Bush: Birds that the Gabar goshawk is the only exception, belonging to the genus Melierax (meaning ‘melodius hawk’ as the chanting goshawks which also belong to this genus have a more melodic call) and has historically jumped between genuses and therefore acts as a link between chanting goshawks and the other goshawk and sparrowhawk species.
At Londolozi we generally see the Shikra, which is also known as the little banded boshawk (Accipiter badius), little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus) and our current camp resident, the African goshawk (Accipiter tachiro). By distribution map we also get black sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus) of which there was a rare sighting this year in March and the Ovambo Sparrowhawk (Accipiter ovampensis) which was last recorded about 10 years ago in the South Western part of the reserve.
Accipiters are exceptional hunters that prefer to hunt from concealed perches. Their shorter wings and longer tails aid them in fast flying through trees. I think this is why the one that lives in camp is so successful. The thicker riverine vegetation gives perfect coverage and the healthy riparian bird populations in the day and bat populations that come out at dusk provide ample food supply. It is such a highlight for me when walking through camp to suddenly catch a glimpse of this beautiful bird perched on the latte fence or swooping past for an evening meal.
Have any of our viewers seen the African Goshawk when staying at Londolozi?
Written by: Andrea Campbell, Land Care Assistant