Little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus)
|Also known as:||African little sparrowhawk|
|Size||Length: 23 - 27 cm (2)|
Wingspan: 39 - 50 cm (2) (3)
Male weight: 74 - 85 g (2) (3)
Female weight: 68 - 105 g (2) (3)
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).
Aptly named for its tiny size, the little sparrowhawk is also readily distinguished by the two white spots on the upperside of its central tail feathers, which contrast with the dark upperparts, and by a white bar on the rump (2) (3) (5). The male has dark grey upperparts, a white throat, and white underparts with fine reddish-brown barring, while the female is larger and dark brown above, with broader brown bars below (2) (3). The eye and cere are yellow, the beak black, and the long legs and feet are yellow. Individuals have a variable amount of reddish-brown on the flanks, which is more notable in males (3). The juvenile is browner than the adults, and has large, round spots on the underparts, as well as a slightly paler cere (2) (3).
The little sparrowhawk is quite a secretive bird, often overlooked or confused with other, similar hawks, particularly the similar but darker red-thighed sparrowhawk (Accipiter erythropus) and the African goshawk (Accipiter tachiro), which is larger, with stouter legs and toes, and has a dark rump and grey cere. The adult male African goshawk shares the little sparrowhawk’s white tail spots, but lacks the latter’s pale rump (2) (3) (5) (6). The calls of the little sparrowhawk include a high-pitched kek-kek-kek-kek, given by the male, and a softer kew-kew-kew, given by the female (5).
The little sparrowhawk is widespread in eastern, central and southern Africa, from southern Sudan and Ethiopia, south to South Africa, and west to Angola and Namibia (2) (3) (6) (7).
This species inhabits patches of woodland and forest, typically along rivers or in valleys. It also uses exotic tree plantations, which has allowed it to colonise drier, more open savanna areas (2) (3) (5) (6).
This small hawk flies with a fast, swerving flight and is quick and agile in the air, taking most prey on the wing after short dashes from cover. The diet consists mainly of small birds, although some bats, lizards and insects are also taken (2) (3). Some prey is pursued to the ground (2).
The breeding season of the little sparrowhawk varies with location, ranging from March to April in north-eastern Africa, to October to November in western Kenya (2), and September to February in southern Africa (6). The nest is small, and built from a platform of sticks, often well hidden in a high fork of a tree and lined with fine twigs and green leaves (2) (3). Clutch size ranges from 1 to 3 eggs (usually 2), which hatch after an incubation period of 31 to 32 days, the young fledging at 25 to 27 days old (2) (8).
The little sparrowhawk has a large range and is still relatively common, even in small patches of habitat and in wooded urban habitats. It has also adapted to exotic plantations, allowing it to expand its range, and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (2) (6) (7). It may potentially be vulnerable to contamination by pesticide residues, which may accumulate in its prey (6), but this is not currently known to be a threat (2).
The little 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 (4). However, there are no other specific conservation measures currently in place for this widespread bird of prey.
To find out more about the little sparrowhawk see:
Global Raptor Information Network:
For more information on bird of prey conservation see:
The Peregrine Fund:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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.
- Cere: in birds, an area of skin at the base of the upper mandible of the beak, surrounding the nostrils.
- Incubation: the act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
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.
- Kemp, A. and Kemp, M. (2006) SASOL Birds of Prey of Africa and its Islands. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
CITES (May, 2010)
- Sinclair, I. (1997) Field Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
Allan, D.G. (1997) Little 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:
BirdLife International (May, 2010)
- Liversidge, R. (1962) The breeding biology of the little sparrowhawk Accipiter minullus. Ibis, 104(3): 399-406.