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Ovambo Sparrowhawk

Accipiter ovampensis

The Ovambo sparrowhawk, a small raptor of the Accipitridae family, exhibits the characteristic broad wings and elongated tail of its genus. Adult plumage is a muted grey above, with a white rump displaying bars, and a finely barred grey and white underside, save for a plain white vent. Its tail is marked by three dark bands and a pronounced subterminal band. A striking black bill contrasts with the red cere, while the eyes are a deep red and the legs a vibrant orange. A rarer melanistic variant is cloaked in black, save for the barred flight feathers beneath the wings. Juveniles present a browner hue, with potential white or rufous underparts and head. Sexual dimorphism is evident, with females surpassing males by approximately 14% in size, weighing between 180–305 grams to the males' 105–190 grams. The species measures around 30 centimeters in length, with a wingspan reaching 67 centimeters.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Ovambo sparrowhawk, look for the distinctive Accipiter shape, grey and white barred plumage, and red eyes. The melanistic form is particularly distinctive with its all-black appearance and white-barred underwing. The size difference between males and females can also be a useful identification feature.

Habitat

This sparrowhawk favors the peripheries of drier forests, woodlands, and exotic plantations, often venturing into adjacent savannas and tall woodlands interspersed with open patches. Its preferred habitats in southern Africa are typically dominated by miombo, Mahobohobo, or Zambezi teak woodlands.

Distribution

The Ovambo sparrowhawk graces the skies of sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly breeding south of the equator. Its breeding range stretches from Ethiopia and Eritrea in the north, down to Tanzania, and spans across southern Africa from the southern Democratic Republic of Congo to northern Namibia, Botswana, northern South Africa, Eswatini, and Mozambique. In western Africa, its presence ranges from the Central African Republic to the Ivory Coast, with northern sightings likely being non-breeding, nomadic individuals.

Behaviour

This adept hunter specializes in avian prey, typically targeting birds up to 60 grams, although females may pursue larger quarry such as doves. Its hunting strategy mirrors that of falcons, soaring at considerable heights before stooping on detected prey and engaging in pursuit over distances of 100–200 meters. When not on the hunt, it may sit inconspicuously within the canopy.

Breeding

The Ovambo sparrowhawk is a territorial bird. Nest construction is primarily the female's responsibility, who builds a stick platform lined with bark chips and occasionally fresh leaves, situated in the canopy of either native or alien trees like eucalyptus. Egg-laying occurs from August to November, peaking in the earlier months, with clutches ranging from one to five eggs. The female incubates the eggs, relying on the male for food deliveries, which continue post-hatching until the female resumes hunting. Fledging occurs after 33–39 days, with full independence achieved roughly a month later.

Similar Species

The Ovambo sparrowhawk may be confused with other Accipiter species, but its size, plumage, and red eyes are distinguishing features. The melanistic form is particularly unique among its relatives.

Diet and Feeding

Its diet consists predominantly of small birds, with females capable of taking down larger birds. The hunting technique is a high soar followed by a stoop, similar to falconry.

Conservation status

The Ovambo sparrowhawk is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating a stable population without significant immediate threats to its survival.

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Ovambo Sparrowhawks on Birda

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