Little Sparrowhawk: The Ultimate Guide

The Little Sparrowhawk is a bird of prey that belongs to the Accipitridae family. As its name may suggest, it is the smallest member of this genus but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a highly skilled, powerful hunter.

If you want to learn more about the Little Sparrowhawk, you’ve come to the right place!

Below, we’ve put together an ultimate guide that tells you everything you need to know about Little Sparrowhawks including appearance, how long they live, their migration pattern, and tons of other information. 

Appearance

The tell-tale markings of a Little Sparrowhawk are the two white spots that sit on the underside of the central tail feathers. These lead up towards a narrow white patch on the rump. They also have a black bill, long yellow toes, and deep yellow eyes. 

The average wingspan of a Little Sparrowhawk is 15-19 inches and they measure between 9-10 inches from beak to tail. Females are typically larger and heavier than males. 

Male VS Female

Male and female Little Sparrowhawks both have the same physical characteristics listed above. However, they are sexually dimorphic and the rest of their appearance is entirely different. 

Male Little Sparrowhawks have dark grey-black upper parts, and this coloring continues to run all the way up to its cheeks until it contrasts with a white throat. They also have fine, white, and rufous bars on their underparts.

Comparatively, female Little Sparrowhawks are a lighter brown color overall. Their underparts are also spotted with lighter brown dots, rather than the white barring that you’d find in males. 

Are They Aggressive?

Little Sparrowhawks are aggressive towards some other birds, particularly Hooded Vultures. However, this is purely territorial and defensive behavior.

As Hooded Vultures are significantly larger than Little Sparrowhawks, they are unlikely to attack them as a way of getting a meal!

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Little Sparrowhawks have evolved to have short, broad wings and a long tail. These adaptations allow them to easily fly through trees and between branches in order to catch their prey. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behaviour / Nesting Habits

The first thing to note about the Little Sparrowhawk’s breeding behavior is that they are monogamous. The female is responsible for building the nest, which she makes using a mixture of sticks and leaves formed into a small platform.

This will usually be sited in the main fork of a tree. Occasionally, a female Little Sparrowhawk will move into an older, abandoned nest rather than craft her own. 

Breeding season is between September and December and, once the nest is constructed, a small clutch usually comprising no more than 3 eggs is laid. Both the male and female take turns to incubate the eggs and after a period of around 32 days, the eggs will hatch. 

At this stage, the male will bring food to the female and the brooding chicks and he’ll also defend the nest from any potential predators. 

The chicks fledge when they reach 25-27 days old and they’ll remain on their parents’ territory for a year. 

Interestingly, the Little Sparrowhawk’s breeding season depends on which part of Eastern and Southern sub-Saharan Africa they reside in. In South Africa, the breeding season runs from September to December, peaking in October.

In Western Kenya, the Little Sparrowhawk’s breeding season runs from October to November. In North-Eastern Africa, their breeding season runs from March to April. 

Their Calls / Sounds

While Little Sparrowhawks can be quite difficult to spot due to their small size, they do have a distinctive call that makes it easy to tell if there is one nearby. Their call is high-pitched and bisyllabic, creating a unique “chy-lip” sound. 

What Do They Eat (Diet)

The majority of a Little Sparrowhawk’s diet consists of smaller birds including:

  • Doves
  • Thrushes
  • Mousebirds
  • Swallows
  • Weavers
  • Flycatchers
  • Sunbirds
  • Sparrows

They catch their prey during flight by accelerating in a short burst of speed. They have also been known to catch and eat bats in this way.

It’s not uncommon for a Little Sparrowhawk to dive toward the ground in search of prey either, and they’ll happily feed on frogs, lizards, and rodents if they can catch them.

Larger insects also feature in the Little Sparrowhawk’s diet including beetles, locusts, and butterflies. 

Where Do They Live (Habitat)

The Little Sparrowhawk is native to Eastern and Southern sub-Saharan Africa. It can be found in Ethiopia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Angola, and South Africa’s Eastern Western Cape. 

Their natural habitat is in woodland and it will spend most of its life soaring through the air in patches of scrub and along river valleys.

However, as the human population continues to grow, their natural habitat is continuously being lost and it’s not uncommon to spot a Little Sparrowhawk in a suburban garden. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Little Sparrowhawk

The Little Sparrowhawk’s nest is created by the female using a mixture of sticks and leaves formed into a small platform. Once the nest is complete, she’ll lay between 1-3 eggs.

These eggs are unmarked and plain white in color, which is uncommon for birds of prey.

Both parents will take turns to incubate the eggs for a period of around 32 days and, once hatched, the male will source food and defend the nest from predators.

After 25-27 days of their parents looking after them, the young Little Sparrowhawks will fledge the nest. They will continue to live on their parent’s territory for up to a year, before flying off to find their own place in the world. 

How Long Do They Live (Lifespan)

The average lifespan of a Little Sparrowhawk is around 4 years in the wild. However, only 34% of younger birds survive to reach their first birthday, and only 69% of Little Sparrowhawks survive to reach their ultimate lifespan. 

What Predators Do They Have?

Even though Little Sparrowhawks are skilled birds of prey, they don’t sit at the top of the food chain and they do have their own predators.

Adult Little Sparrowhawks face predation from the Gabar Goshawk, while infants and chicks often fall prey to Lizard Buzzards. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The appearance of a Little Sparrowhawk’s feathers depends on both sex and age. Males, females, and juvenile Little Sparrowhawks all look quite different. 

Males have dark grey upper parts that are almost black. This feather coloration continues up to the cheeks until it meets the throat, where it contrasts sharply with white feathers.

Males also have underparts that are barred with fine, white, and rufous markings. 

Females are a much lighter brown color overall and the bars on their underparts are also browner and less fine than males. 

When juvenile, both males and female Little Sparrowhawks are brown overall and their upperpart feathers have pale tips. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

Little Sparrowhawk poop isn’t dissimilar to most other birds of preys’ droppings. It is mostly white with spots of dark-brown/black and is excreted in liquid form. 

Do They Migrate?

Little Sparrowhawks are sedentary birds and they don’t migrate for winter. The reason for this is because their native habitat of Eastern and Southern sub-Saharan Africa stays warm enough for them all year-round.

However, while Little Sparrowhawks don’t migrate from Africa, they may migrate to other parts of the continent if necessary. 

Conservation Status

The Little Sparrowhawk has a “Least Concern” conservation status.

This means that they aren’t considered threatened, near-threatened, or conservation dependent. In fact, populations are thought to be steadily increasing in certain areas including Southwestern South Africa. 

The reason for this steady increase in numbers is believed to have stemmed from the Little Sparrowhawk being able to take advantage of newly established exotic tree plantations. 

Fun Facts

The Little Sparrowhawk is the smallest member of the Accipiter genus.

The Little Sparrowhawk forms a superspecies with the Red-Thighed Sparrowhawk.

While both male and female Little Sparrowhawks have different markings, they each have the same white dots that run from the base of their tail to their lower rump.

Despite being much smaller in size, Little Sparrowhawks will display aggressive behavior towards Hooded Vultures if they feel they are encroaching on their territory or threatening their nest.

While Little Sparrowhawks will usually build their own nests, they have been known to take over older, abandoned nests in which to raise their broods.

Both males and females incubate the eggs and, when the chicks have hatched, the female will stay with them while the male provides food and protection.

Little Sparrowhawks tend to hunt on the wing and catch smaller birds by accelerating at great speed through the air. 

Only 34% of young Little Sparrowhawks reach adulthood, and only 69% survive to reach their ultimate lifespan of 4 years.

Little Sparrowhawks populations are believed to be increasing in Southwestern South Africa as new plantations of exotic trees have created new territories. 

While Little Sparrowhawks are most commonly found in woodland and patches of scrub along river valleys, it’s not unusual for one to land in a suburban garden. This is becoming increasingly common as the human population continues to grow.