Bat hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus)

French: Faucon des chauves-souris
GenusMacheiramphus (1)
Weight600 – 650 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

While many predators prey upon bats, none make more of a habit of it than the fittingly named bat hawk (4). Although often appearing completely black in the low light of dusk, this medium-sized bird of prey is dark brown, with white ‘eyelids’ and small patches of white on the throat and belly (2) (5). It has a pointed crest, large yellow eyes and a deceptively small beak for the size of prey it takes (2) (6). The legs and toes are long and slender and the talons are incredibly sharp. Juveniles are similar in appearance to the adults, but are less dark and more mottled white, particularly on the breast (2).

The bat hawk has a widespread distribution that includes Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and much of sub-Saharan Africa including Madagascar (2) (6).

Found in a range of habitats wherever there are large numbers of bats, from tropical forest through to open areas near caves (2) (6).

The bat hawk typically spends the day perched sedately in a tall tree, becoming active for short periods around dusk, and occasionally at dawn, in synchrony with the peak activity of its main prey. Leaving the perch at twilight, this unconventional raptor will patrol open areas where bats are emerging from their roosts or feeding over lakes and rivers (2). The bat hawk hunts on the wing, using its large eyes to pierce the fading light in all directions for a target. With prey sighted, it accelerates rapidly from behind, snatching a bat out the air and swiftly transferring the catch from its talons to its beak. Despite having only a small beak, with the aid of an enormous gape, the bat hawk is able to swallow most of its catches whole in flight (2) (6). Although bats are the main component of its diet, small dusk feeding birds, such as swifts and nightjars, are also caught, as well as large flying insects (2).

At the start of the breeding season bat hawks uncharacteristically take to the air during the day to perform impressive courtship displays (2) (6). This involves high speed aerial chases accompanied by tumbling dives, acrobatic rolls, talon touching and high pitched calling (2). The large stick nest is built high up in a pale-barked tree, which probably makes it easier to locate at night. Normally each year just a single egg is laid and incubated by the female, whilst the male does most of the hunting. The chick hatches after around a month and is fed by both parents over a short period just before dark. The young fledge after around 35 to 40 days and do not remain in the vicinity of the nest for very long (2) (6).

Although there is some evidence of a decline in the bat hawk population in Borneo, its overall population appears to be stable. Consequently, the bat hawk is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (7).

Although there are no known conservation measures in place for the bat hawk, it is listed on Appendix II of CITES which makes it an offence to trade this species without a permit (3).

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)