With its relatively long, pointed wings and short legs, the Ovampo sparrowhawk more closely resembles a small falcon than a sparrowhawk in appearance (2) (6). The head is small and rather snaky, with a black beak, the tail is squared, the toes are relatively long, and the species is also readily distinguished by the dark red, almost black eyes, and the orange-red legs and cere. The adult male Ovampo sparrowhawk is grey above, with white markings on the rump, fine barring below (including on the throat and the thighs), and bands on the tail and flight feathers. The central parts of the tail feathers bear white spots. The female is much larger than the male, and browner above. A rare dark (melanistic) morph also sometimes occurs, which is overall blackish-brown, but still has the tail and underwing patterns of the grey morph, with the banded flight feathers contrasting strongly with black wing linings (2) (3) (4).
Juvenile Ovampo sparrowhawks also occur in two colour morphs, being brown above and either plain reddish-brown below, or streaked and barred with white below, with a pale head and contrasting dark cheeks. However, these forms have no connection to those of the adult. The juvenile also has dark brown eyes, a pale orange cere and legs, a more thinly banded tail and wings, and a pale, conspicuous eyebrow stripe (2) (3) (4). The Ovampo sparrowhawk is easily confused with the similar-looking gabar goshawk (Melierax gabar), but the latter has a white rump, plain grey chest, red legs, a larger head, and a different tail pattern (2) (3) (7). The reddish-brown morph of the juvenile Ovampo sparrowhawk closely resembles both the adult and juvenile rufous-chested sparrowhawk (Accipiter rufiventris), but can be distinguished by its dark eye, orange rather than yellow cere and legs, and more prominent eyebrow stripe (2) (3) (4).
- Also known as
- Ovambo sparrowhawk.
- Epervier de l'Ovampo.
- Length: 30 - 40 cm (2)
- Wingspan: 60 - 75 cm (3)
- Male weight: 105 - 190 g (3) (4)
- Female weight: 180 - 305 g (3) (4)
Ovampo sparrowhawk biology
The Ovampo sparrowhawk feeds mainly on small birds, the female taking larger prey than the male, up to the size of doves. Some flying insects may also be taken, and hunting takes place during flight, including by stoops from height, or from fast dashes from a high perch (2) (3) (4). As well as resembling a small falcon in appearance, this species is also falcon-like in its hunting behaviour, and often chases prey in open areas (2) (6). The calls of the Ovampo sparrowhawk include a high, repeated keep note (3) (4) (7).
Breeding takes place between August and January in southern Africa (2) (3) (6), and has been recorded in May and September in Kenya, although the breeding season elsewhere is little known (2) (3). During courtship, the male and female soar and circle together while calling (3). The nest, usually built in the crown of a tall tree, is a relatively small structure of fine sticks, and is lined with twigs, bark and leaves (2) (3) (4). Between 1 and 5 eggs are laid (usually 3), and are incubated for 33 to 36 days. The young sparrowhawks fledge at around 33 days old (2) (3).
Ovampo sparrowhawk range
The Ovampo sparrowhawk is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia, and south to Angola, Namibia, Botswana and northern South Africa (2) (4) (6) (8). The species may be found year-round in southern Africa, but its movements elsewhere are poorly understood, although it may be a seasonal migrant to parts of West and East Africa (2) (4) (6).
Species with a similar range
Ovampo sparrowhawk habitat
This species inhabits forest, woodland and exotic tree plantations, often moving into surrounding open areas of savanna and grassland when hunting (2) (3) (4) (6) (7).
Species found in a similar habitat
Ovampo sparrowhawk status
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (5).
Ovampo sparrowhawk threats
Although apparently uncommon in East and West Africa, the Ovampo sparrowhawk is a widespread species and is locally common in southern Africa, where stands of exotic trees have allowed it to expand its range into otherwise open grassland regions (2) (3) (6). The species may be affected by the cutting of woodland (2), and its breeding success may be low in some areas due to contamination with pesticides (6), but overall its population appears to be increasing, and it is not believed to be at risk of extinction (8).
Ovampo sparrowhawk conservation
The Ovampo sparrowhawk is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in the species should be carefully monitored (5), and is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (9). However, there are no other specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for this sparrowhawk.
Find out more
For more information on the Ovampo sparrowhawk see:
To find out more about bird of prey conservation see:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
Authenticated (04/07/10) by Dr Alan Kemp, retired Curator, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (previously Transvaal Museum), and Research Associate, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.
- In birds, an area of skin at the base of the upper mandible of the beak, surrounding the nostrils.
- Flight feathers
- The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- One of two or more distinct types of a given species, often distinct colour forms, which occur in the same population at the same time (that is, are not geographical or seasonal variations).
IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A & C Black Publishers, London.
Kemp, A. and Kemp, M. (2006) SASOL Birds of Prey of Africa and its Islands. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
CITES (May, 2010)
Allan, D.G. (1997) Ovambo sparrowhawk. In: Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree, A.T., Parker, V. and Brown, C.J. (Eds.) The Atlas of Southern African Birds. Volume I: Non-passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg. Available at:
Sinclair, I. (1997) Field Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
BirdLife International (May, 2010)
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (May, 2010)