Black Goshawk: The Ultimate Guide

The black goshawk, also known as the black sparrowhawk or Accipiter melanoleucus, is the largest African species of its genus. Found predominantly in forests and woodland areas in sub-Saharan Africa, the black goshawk stands out for its unique black plumage. 

While the black goshawk has a conservation status of Least Concern, little is known about the species. Scientific research is lacking in certain areas, which means that it can be difficult learning about this special species. 

Here is the ultimate guide to the black goshawk!


As the name suggests, the black goshawk exhibits a predominantly black plumage, complete with a white throat and speckled chest and abdomen.

There is a morph of this species that possesses a white breast, known as “white morphs”, which are more common than the “black morphs” that are mostly black all over. Both morphs, however, exhibit black and white barring under their wings and tail that is visible in flight. Their large feet are yellow with huge black talons. 

As chicks, the black goshawk is covered in white down, until they reach juvenile age when their feathers bloom into a brown plumage. Their eyes go from gray to light brown to red as their feathers darken into black. 

The black goshawk is the largest African species in its genus, Accipiter, with an average length of 20 inches and a wingspan of 1 meter. Their tails can reach up to 10 inches long, and their tarsi (feet) can reach 3.1 inches in length.

Females are typically larger than males – where males weigh between 0.99-1.43 pounds, the females weigh between 1.65-2.25 pounds. 

Male vs Female

Like most bird of prey species, the black goshawk is a sexually monomorphic animal, which means that there aren’t many physical differences between males and females. This can make distinguishing the two sexes difficult.

However, as with most sexually monomorphic birds of prey, the female black goshawk is generally larger than the male. 

Are They Aggressive?

As the black goshawk often resides near and in human settlements like rural villages, they have grown used to human encounters. Like most birds, however, they are more likely to fly away from a human than become aggressive. However, if a human was to go too close to their nest, the birds may exhibit aggressive behavior due to their territorial nature. 

For prey, the black goshawk is very aggressive. These birds aren’t forgiving if they want to eat a small mammal or reptile, and their methods of catching and killing prey aren’t friendly. Their talons aren’t huge for no reason, after all!

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The black goshawk has adapted excellently to areas of dense vegetation like forests and woodlands. They have adapted to fly through dense foliage and vegetation with ease, plus their impeccable eyesight allows them to see through foliage to spot prey from below.

However, these birds have also adapted to areas of human settlement, such as rural villages, when looking for food. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior

The breeding seasons of the black goshawk are spread throughout the year depending on the subspecies. Those in Eastern Africa breed whenever they like, while one subspecies breeds through August-November and the other breeds through May-October. Regardless of the breeding season, all black goshawks exhibit the same rituals and nesting habits. 

Black goshawks are monogamous birds, so they will only mate with one other bird for life.

There isn’t any information about courting rituals, though it is assumed that the ritual is similar to most birds of prey, wherein the male performs an aerial display with calls and sounds until the female agrees to the mating. The couple will mate throughout the breeding season, even after the chicks have fledged, so multiple brooding is common. 

The female is known to become broody and lethargic once the nest is made, so the male primarily hunts for food throughout the incubation and hatching process. The female will lay a clutch of 2-4 eggs, and both the male and female will take part in the incubation period lasting 34-38 days.

The male will take part in the incubation after he has caught prey to give the female a break, wherein she will eat and bathe in a nearby stream.

It takes 37 to 50 days for the chicks to fledge, but the female will continue to look after them for the next 37-47 days. Talk about protective maternal instincts!

Their Calls / Sounds

The black goshawk is mostly a quiet species, except for during breeding season. The male and female will communicate with each other, particularly when the male is approaching the nest with prey. The male will make high-pitched sounds, while the female will respond with a lower-pitched squawk. They will also make characteristic mating calls during the courting rituals. Of course, once hatched, the chicks make high-pitched squeaks almost constantly. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

Due to their impressive size, the black goshawk will most eat medium-sized birds. The black goshawk is a masterful hunter in dense vegetation, so they are much faster than the unsuspecting medium-sized birds.

This pursuit can last several minutes between prey and predator, but the goshawk almost always wins. Doves and pigeons are two of the most common species hunted by the black goshawk, as well as poultry found in local villages and agricultural farmland. 

If they cannot find a medium-sized bird (or even a smaller bird of prey like an owl), the black goshawk will settle for small mammals and rodents like bats and mongooses. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

The black goshawk is a widely distributed species across sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from Senegal and Central African Republic all the way to South Africa. Their favorite habitat is areas of dense vegetation like forests and woodlands, as well as dense dry bush areas.

Anywhere with large trees is suitable for a black goshawk, but they have also adapted to live in poplar and eucalyptus trees. 

The black goshawk can also be found in urban settings, particularly in Cape Town. The urbanization hasn’t negatively impacted the breeding of the black goshawk species, so it can only be assumed that they adapted to these settings for the abundance of food options. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The black goshawk is fussy when it comes to choosing the right location for their nest. The ideal place is within a tall tree canopy that can protect the nest and its inhabitants from predators or harsh weather conditions.

Both parents will make the nest out of sticks, pine needles, eucalyptus leaves, and aromatic greenery used to deter insects and mites that can carry diseases. These nests are 20-28 inches wide and 12-30 inches deep. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

The average lifespan of a black goshawk is unclear, but it is estimated to be between 3-6 years in the wild. 

What Predators Do They Have?

Fortunately for the black goshawk, the species is the top predator in its food chain. This means that, as adults, these birds don’t have anything to fear. However, as eggs and chicks and juveniles, the young black goshawk has a variety of predators.

Snakes and lizards can eat the eggs, and other birds will happily feast on the young chicks and juveniles. This is why the female black goshawk likes to keep her young in her nest under her watchful eye for a long period of time. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The black goshawk comes in either the white or black morph. While the black morphs have a plumage of almost entirely black feathers, the white morphs exhibit these black feathers along with white speckles or a white chest. Their feathers are brown until they reach maturity. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

There is little information about the black goshawk’s pooping habits. Of course, it mostly depends on their diet for the day, but it is estimated that the poop is mostly brown, and sometimes black or white with a gooey-like consistency. 

Do They Migrate?

The black goshawk is a local migrant, which means that they will often migrate to find the perfect habitat or to find food. Juveniles are the most likely to fly into a new habitat entirely, but there is no definite migratory season. 

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the black goshawk is Least Concern. The only real issue this species faces is deforestation, however due to their adaptability to other habitats like rural villages and agricultural farmlands, the species has somewhat learned to coexist with habitat destruction. However, climate change has led to uncontrollable wildfires that continue to destroy their favorite habitats of dense vegetation, which might prove detrimental to the species in the near future. 

Fun Facts

  • The habitats of the black goshawk range greatly, from the heights of eucalyptus trees to coastal areas in South Africa. 
  • The black goshawk can fly up to speeds of 18-25 mph. 
  • The female black goshawk tends to be fluffier than the male.
  • Black goshawks are also known as black sparrowhawks or great sparrowhawks.