It might be the smallest member of the genus Accipiter (comprising 51 species of sparrow- and goshawks) but the Little Sparrowhawk isn’t a raptor that ought to be underestimated, especially if you are a small bird (up to the size of doves), rodent, bat, lizard or frog – small vertebrates making up the bulk of their diet. They hunt by ambushing prey from dense foliage, striking swiftly and acrobatically. Due to their small size and adeptness at hiding, the Little Sparrowhawk is easily overlooked. They prefer dense habitats, inhabiting a range of forest, thicket, woodland and riverine plant communities.
Little Sparrowhawks are monogamous and pairs defend a territory. The female builds the nest, which is little more than a platform of sticks and leaves, high in the fork of a large tree. They breed mainly in the spring season, laying 1-3 eggs that are incubated by both parents in turns for approximately a month. The chicks grow quickly and leave the nest by the time they’re a month old, but they remain in their parents’ territory until the next breeding season before they disperse. Fully grown, female Little Sparrowhawk weighs just 100g (males are about a quarter smaller still) and measure 25cm in length.
The Little Sparrowhawk occurs from Ethiopia and Eritrea southwards through most of central and eastern Africa all the way to South Africa, and its conservation status is listed as “least concern” by the IUCN. In our country they can be found from the coastal Eastern Cape, through most of Kwazulu-Natal and into Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West Province.