African Harrier-Hawk: The Ultimate Guide


Closely related to harriers (hence the name), the African Harrier-Hawk is a bird that typically tends to grow to a relatively large length of 60-66cm, which is the equivalent to around 23.5 to 26inches.

As for the wingspan, the average span usually reaches 160cm (or 5 ft 3 inches) although this can vary slightly between sexes. As for the physical characteristics, the African Hawk is a highly distinctive bird that stands apart from the rest.

Regardless of whether male or female, the African Harrier-Hawk typically tends to be all grey in the body, with a face that consists of orange and yellow colorings. As for the legs, they are usually a vibrant yellow and short. 

Male Vs Female

There aren’t too many differences between male and female African Harrier-Hawks, though it can be noted that the female African Harrier-Hawks do often tend to be slightly larger than the males.

African Harrier-Hawks are also generally monogamous birds that have been known to mate for life. During the courtship stages, both male and female African Harrier-Hawks will take to the sky, where they will then form pairs and break off into partnerships.

Once in pairs, African Harrier-Hawks will soar slowly around each other, calling out to one another while they circle around each other.

A true spectacle to witness, there have been reports that detail male African Harrier-Hawks diving towards their female counterpart while in the sky, and then gently touching her back with his talons.

In return, the female turns over in the air and touches her talons with the male, solidifying the union. 

Are They Aggressive?

The African Harrier Hawk is not known to be hostile towards humans (unless provoked or they feel threatened) but they are known to be very territorial and will often display aggressive behaviors to threats as a way to protect themselves and their nest, while also asserting their dominance.

Interestingly, when African Harrier Hawks are startled or angry – their faces are known to blush red!

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The African Harrier Hawk has a variety of adaptations that have allowed them to survive in the wild. It has long double-jointed legs that allow the bird to climb with ease and raid a variety of different cavity-nests.

They have excellent eyesight and are able to spot prey from far away, and have very powerful wings that allow the bird to soar for hours without becoming tired.

The African Harrier Hawk is also an omnivore, which means that they will eat a variety of meat and fruit, which has helped them to survive during times of food shortage. In addition to all of this, the African Harrier-Hawk is also highly adaptable to a variety of environments.

Breeding / Reproduction Behaviour

Unlike other species of Raptor, the African Harrier-Hawk’s breeding season begins at various stages of the year, and it all depends on what location the African Harrier-Hawks are in.

To give you an idea of what we mean by this, in Nigeria the breeding season for the African Harrier-Hawk often tends to begin in March through to August, while just over on the South of the equator, the breeding season often ends to begin during austral summer.

Interestingly, for African Harrier-Hawks that have situated themselves in countries such as South Africa, the breeding season has been seen to commence far later in the year during the winter months, which is quite unusual. 

Their Calls / Sounds

The African Harrier-Hawk is not an overly vocal bird and is not known to screech during hunting or while courting.

However, this bird does have a distinctive call that they use to communicate with their partner, which consists of a whistled “sueee” noise that is often whistled in bursts of three. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

True omnivores, the African Harrier-Hawk enjoys a varied diet that consists of fruit, eggs, pigeons, squirrels, mice, sparrows, as well as insects.

This is mainly due to the African Harrier-Hawk’s excellent ability to climb, which allows it to use its wings and talons to raid a variety of obscure nests and cavities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

It should also be noted that the African Harrier-Hawk has a variety of different hunting strategies that are regularly employed to help catch prey. These consist of foraging on the ground, canopy foraging, low soaring as well as high soaring. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

African Harrier-Hawk

The African Harrier-Hawks are a type of raptorial species that are most commonly found in the south of the Sahara, as well as other tropical regions of western Africa.

Sometimes, the African Harrier-Hawk may also be seen in South to East Africa, although these instances are less common.

The African Harrier-Hawk is an extremely adaptable bird that can thrive in a variety of habitats, although this bird does show a preference for riparian areas, rainforests, as well as farming areas.

Nevertheless, the African Harrier-Hawk is a bird that is frequently seen in urban, human-occupied areas (particularly cities) which has meant that they have been placed at a higher risk of being illegally hunted.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

More often than not, African Harrier-Hawks will opt to nest in areas that are full of large, green trees, and show a preference for nesting in rocky environments.

Nests are usually created to be circular in design, and are usually situated in the main fork of a large tree, and are almost always nestled just below the canopy for additional protection.

The nests are constructed well, which means that they are often able to last for several seasons before needing to be re-made, and are relatively large in size to fit the male and female counterparts, as well as whatever young that they might have (an average clutch consists of one to three eggs).

Typically, the nests are made of a variety of different sticks and are lined with the leaves of the trees surrounding the nest, as this helps to make the nest harder to spot. 

How Long Do They Live?(Lifespan)

While more research needs to be undertaken to provide an accurate picture of how long the African Harrier-Hawk tends to live, it is considered that these birds can live upwards of ten years in the wild as it is a mixture of a Harrier (which has an average lifespan of around 7 years) and Hawk (which has an average lifespan of around 20 years).

What Predators Do They Have?

As a bird of prey, the African Harrier-Hawk does not have a great number of predators that it is at risk of being hunted by.

Nevertheless, the African Harrier-Hawk may be hunted by hawks and eagles that are larger than them in size, and on rare occasions, by their own kind. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

While juveniles, the feathers of young African Harrier-Hawks tend to be a patchy brown color across the body, with a yellow/green-hued skin color across the face area.

As for the flight feathers, they also tend to be brown in color, with off-white bars running in a horizontal line all down the length of the wings.

As they reach maturity, African Harrier-Hawks tend to develop a grayish color across the feathers on their body, a black, white-banded tail as well as yellow and orange hues across the face.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

The poop of the African Harrier-Hawk is typically runny in texture and covered in white, paste-like excrement that hardens over time.

Due to the bird’s Hawk roots, the African Harrier-Hawk has been known to expel their increments away from their body, so that it does not touch them.

Do They Migrate?

While the African Harrier Hawk is not recognized as a migratory bird, it should be noted that this species of bird do tend to migrate if in search of food or due to adverse weather conditions.

As we have already mentioned above, even though the African Harrier-Hawk tends to stick to the south of the Sahara desert, as well as tropical sub-regions of western Africa, this raptorial bird can sometimes migrate to the South and East of Africa, though this is something that is not frequently seen unless the weather is particularly wet.

Conservation Status

At the time of writing, the African Harrier-Hawk currently has a conservation status classification of “Least Concern” which means that this unique species is not endangered or at risk of becoming extinct.

What’s more, the African Harrier-Hawk is also currently classified as having a stable population, which means that it is neither increasing nor decreasing at this moment in time, which can be attributed to growing levels of deforestation and human encroachment.

Fun Facts

Unlike any other raptor, the African Harrier-Hawk is known to blush deep red in the face when they are taken by surprise, as well as during the courtship process!

Highly adaptable, the African Harrier-Hawk can thrive in a variety of habitats.

The African Harrier-Hawk is also sometimes referred to as Gymnogene – which quite literally means “bare cheeks”.