African Goshawk

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Image:African Goshawk.jpg

Common Name: African Goshawk
Scientific Name: Accipiter tachiro

Size: 13.7-15.7 inches (35-40 cm); Wingspan: 26.7-28.7 inches (68-73 cm)

Habitat: Africa; found in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

This hawk prefers deep forests, secondary growth, river strips and, in East Africa, the denser savannahs and mountain forests.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: Unknown amount of adult individuals. Major threats include wetland desiccation and drainage; persecution by shooting; pollution, especially from excessive pesticide use in and around wetlands (although widespread bans have reduced this threat somewhat), and poisoning by heavy metals, notably the consumption of lead-shot through feeding on contaminated carrion. The species is also highly vulnerable to the effects of potential wind energy development.

Diet: Mostly birds, some mammals, and occasionally lizards, frogs and insects. It is a bold and successful poultry thief in forest villages.

It remains inside heavy growth most of the time, but will cross open spaces, particularly in the early morning and evening when it catches much of its prey. It uses lines of trees or hedges as cover for hunting purposes, flying along them and suddenly over or through them to surprise prey beyond. It frequently perches near a waterhole in the forest, to catch small birds coming to drink. It takes a fair proportion of its food sources from the ground.

Nesting: This is a very variable species, and has been split into several sub-species with regional color variations.

The nominate species is dark slate grey, paler on the cheeks, becoming sooty on the mantle and lower back. The tail is blackish brown, with three large white patches on the central tail feathers, forming broken white bars when spread. The upper-wing coverts are blackish brown. Primaries and secondaries are dark brown, banded with black and white at the base of the inner webs. Chin and throat are white, mottled grey. The underside of the body, under-wing coverts, axillaries and under-tail coverts are white, barred with rufous. The sides and thighs are chestnut, lightly barred with white. The underside of the tail is grey, with three broad black bars. The underside of the wing quills are grey, darker towards tips, with three, four or five dark bars. The eyes are orange-yellow, the cere greenish yellow, and the feet yellow.

The female differs from the male in being 15% larger, browner, and more heavily marked below with the bars being dark brown rather than rufous. The tail bars are less distinct, and greyer.

Immatures are browner still, show whiter on the nape, and some pale edges to the feathers of the upper side. The tail is brown, narrowly tipped with buff, with four black bars, but without the white crossbars of the adult. Under parts are white to buff, heavily spotted on the breast and heavily barred dark brown on the flanks and under-wing coverts, the thighs are closely spotted and barred with sepia. Flight feathers are grey below, shading to pinkish buff basally, broadly barred dark brown. The eyes are brown, the legs and cere greenish. This plumage develops into the adult by becoming more slatey above, the crossbars developing in the rail, and by developing more barring below, with patches of chestnut on thighs and flanks.

At the onset of the breeding season both sexes perform a display flight, a hundred feet above the forest canopy, but sometimes much higher, circling slowly with bursts of wing-flapping interspersed with glides, and calling ‘kwit’. This is most often in the early morning. Sometimes the wing flaps are slow and measured, almost harrier-like (chiefly males). They also perch on a branch at treetop level and call, in the morning and evening (if the call comes from thick cover it is likely to be a Robin-chat mimicking the Goshawk).

Nests are constructed annually, both sexes taking part, but sometimes an old nest is refurbished. It is made at any height from twenty to sixty feet above ground, well concealed in a thick-leaved tree. It is a small structure, up to two feet across and three feet deep. The cup, about nine inches across by three inches deep, is lined with finer sticks and green leaves.

Two or three eggs are laid at three-day intervals. They are white or greenish white, sometimes sparsely marked with brown and lilac. The breeding season normally coincides with the latter part of the dry season, but sometimes extends well into the wet season. Incubation is carried out by the female only, and the period is 28 to 30 days. She sits very tight, and only leaves the nest about twice a day for brief spells. She is fed on the nest by the male.

The young hatch at two, three, or even four-day intervals, resulting in considerable variation in size. Feathers first show through the down at about fourteen days and they are full-feathered by twenty days. They attempt to tear up prey by themselves from six days onwards, but continue to be fed by the female up to 28 days, less frequently towards the end of the fledging period. They make their first flight from the nest tree at about 32 days.

The female broods the young closely in the early stages. and thereafter remains in the vicinity of the nest much of the time. The prey in the early fledging period is brought by the male, and the female consumes what the young do not eat. The male does not stay to feed the young even when he arrives on the nest in the female’s absence, and seldom visits the nest when she is there. Several kills may be brought in a day. In the early stages the female will leave the nest to receive prey from the male, and in the later stages she too takes part in killing and bringing prey for the young. The female roosts in the nest with the young in the early fledging period and the male in a tree not far away.

After the young make their first flights they return to roost in the nest or in the canopy of the tree above it, for up to two weeks. Thereafter they will remain in the neighborhood of the nest for up to two months.

Cool Facts: It is often considered conspecific with the Red-chested goshawk of western and central Africa.  

This 3D Model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume II: Hawks of the Old World

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