African Harrier Hawk

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Image:African Harrier-hawk.jpg

Common Name: African Harrier Hawk
Scientific Name: Polyboroides typus

Size: 23.6-26 inches (60-66 cm); Wingspan: 48-53 inches (120-135 cm)

Habitat: Africa; they are widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and south to South Africa, as well as on the island of Pemba. P. t. pectoralis occurs from Senegal to western Sudan, and south to Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while P. t. typus has a more eastern and southerly distribution, from eastern Sudan and Eritrea, south through East Africa, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, and as far south as South Africa. Although resident in most areas, the African harrier-hawk may make some seasonal movements in parts of West Africa and may be locally nomadic in parts of southern Africa.

It inhabits mainly forest, woodland, wooded savanna, tall riparian vegetation and wooded ravines, up to elevations of around 3,000 m. In large areas of continuous forest, the African harrier-hawk is generally found at the forest edges, in clearings or close to rivers, and also readily adapts to partly deforested areas and to plantations, particularly stands of eucalyptus trees. In hilly or mountainous terrain the species is often associated with cliff faces, though it also inhabits flat plains.

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: Omnivorous. Its diet includes small mammals such as rodents and bats, as well as birds, eggs and nestlings, lizards, amphibians and insects. It may also occasionally take stranded fish or carrion. In West Africa, Harrier-hawks often feed on oil-palm fruits.

Its ability to climb, using wings as well as feet, and its long double-jointed legs, enable this bird to raid the nests of cavity-nesters such as barbets and woodhoopoes for fledglings. It has been known to prey on introduced species such as feral pigeons, house sparrows and eastern gray squirrels.

Nesting: Females are noticeably larger than males. The upperparts, head and breast are pale grey. The belly is white with fine dark barring. The broad wings are pale grey with a black trailing edge fringed with a narrow white line. The tail is black with a single broad white band. There is a bare facial patch of variable color, usually red or yellow. Genders are similar, but young birds have pale brown instead of grey, and dark brown replacing black.

The breeding season of the African harrier-hawk varies with location. During courtship, the male performs a slow, circling display flight, and, upon being joined by the female, the pair may come together, with the female rolling over and the pair sometimes briefly touching claws in mid-air.

Usually the nest is relatively large, built with sticks and lined with sprays of green leaves. It is placed in a tree or on a cliff ledge. One to three eggs are laid. They hatch after an incubation period of about 35 days. Older chicks often kill younger siblings soon after hatching, with usually only one or sometimes two chicks surviving. They fledge after 45 to 55 days. Cool Facts: An unusual trait of this species is the double-jointed knees it possesses, which enable it to reach into otherwise inaccessible holes and cracks for prey. A comparable leg-structure and behavior can be found in the Neotropical crane hawk which is a case of convergent evolution.

There are two subspecies of African harrier-hawk:

  • Polyboroides typus typus. The nominate species.
  • Polyboroides typus pectoralis. This species is smaller and darker than the nominate species with more barring on the underparts.


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

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