Levant sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes)

French: Epervier à pieds courts
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyAccipitridae
GenusAccipiter (1)
SizeLength: 33 – 38 cm (2)

The Levant sparrowhawk is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

A handsome, small-bodied bird of prey, the Levant sparrowhawk can be distinguished by its barred underparts and striking, dark red eyes. The sexes differ in size and plumage colouration, with the male being significantly smaller than the female and possessing dull blue-grey upperparts, along with a pale breast and belly which are lightly marked with pinkish or reddish bars. In contrast, the female is brown above with heavily barred underparts and a dark streak on the throat. The juvenile resembles the adult female, but has streaked rather than barred underparts and a pale spot on the nape (2). The Levant sparrowhawk produces a shrill “keeveck-veck-veck”, which is uncharacteristic of sparrowhawks and more akin to the call of the tawny owl (4).

The Levant sparrowhawk has been recorded over a large range, from south-east Europe, east through southern Russia to western Kazakhstan (2), and south through the Middle East to the United Arab Emirates (1) (2) (5). A migratory species, the Levant sparrowhawk is believed to spend the winter in the east Sahel zone of sub-Saharan Africa (2).

The Levant sparrowhawk typically occurs in wooded plains, particularly within river basins, as well as amongst foothills and mountain slopes. In the Caucasus Mountains this species can be found up to elevations of 1,000 metres, although in Armenia, it has been recorded as high as 2,000 metres (2).

The Levant sparrowhawk is commonly encountered alone or in a pair around clearings on the edges of woods and sometimes on the outskirts of human settlements. An efficient predator, this species mainly consumes large insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers and locusts, as well as lizards, a variety of small birds, and mice and voles. While most hunting occurs during the day, the Levant sparrowhawk has also been observed feeding on agile, aerial prey such as bats at dusk (2).

Egg-laying takes place during May and early June, with a clutch of three to five eggs deposited in a nest constructed from sticks and twigs, which is placed on a tree branch. The eggs are incubated by the female Levant sparrowhawk for around 30 to 35 days, while the male brings food. The chicks fledge after around 45 days, but remain dependent on the parent birds for several weeks afterwards. Sexual maturity is reached at one year old (2).

The Levant sparrowhawk leaves the breeding grounds in September, migrating south to its African wintering grounds (2). During migration, large flocks may form, which travel by day and by night and hunt together. As a trade-off between conserving energy and reducing time spent migrating, this species employs a combination of passive soaring and gliding, as well as energetic flapping flight. The latter technique is particularly used towards the end of migration when individuals become separated from the main migratory stream (6).

There are no known major threats to the Levant sparrowhawk’s survival at present. Although this species’ global population size and trends are not well known, it is estimated to number between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals, and does not appear to be undergoing a significant decline (1) (2).

While there are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the Levant sparrowhawk (1), it occurs in several protected areas (7).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume Two: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (July, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (2001) A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.
  5. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.
  6. Stark, H. and Liechti, F. (2008) Do Levant Sparrowhawks Accipiter brevipes also migrate at night?. Ibis, 135: 233 - 236.
  7. BirdLife International (July, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3427&m=1