Known as the Black Goshawk, Accipiter melanoleucus or “Swartsperwer” in Afrikaans, the Black Sparrowhawk is the largest African member within the Accipiter genus, boasting an impressive wingspan ranging from 77 to 105 centimetres.

Usually adorned with predominantly black plumage, male and female Black Sparrowhawks showcase distinctive “white morph” variations characterised by a striking white throat, breast, and belly. However, these stunning, white-breasted individuals are more prevalent across most regions where these birds dwell. Interestingly, in specific coastal regions of South Africa, notably along the Cape Peninsula, the “black morph” variety dominates, constituting around 80% of the local population.

When perched, the “black morphs” aren’t entirely black but can exhibit a few white spots on the breast or varying-sized white throats. In flight, both morphs exhibit a beautiful pattern of white and black barring on the underside of their wings and tail. Notably, these “black morphs” aren’t considered melanistic, as their plumage isn’t entirely black, contrary to common belief, and they don’t emerge black as chicks or juveniles. Distinguishing between mature males and females based on plumage isn’t feasible; however, size variations provide a notable distinction. Their legs, typically yellow, boast large feet and talons, essential for their hunting expeditions.

These enigmatic birds are discreet hunters, preferring cover for their swift ground-hunting dashes after prey. Nesting in tall trees, particularly favouring exotic eucalyptus, they line their nests with greenery for cushioning while incubating their three eggs. After a 55-day nestling period, the hungry chicks become quite vocal as they seek sustenance from their attentive parents.

The young chicks start their journey with mid-grey eyes and white down. However, as their feathers emerge, they adopt a predominantly brown plumage. This youthful plumage, showcasing a range of browns and russets with dark streaks along their heads and chests, also exhibits white or light-coloured spots, particularly on their wings. Fascinatingly, this brown plumage signifies immaturity, steering clear of the aggressively territorial behaviour commonly displayed by mature black-and-white individuals. As these young birds mature, their eyes undergo a captivating transformation, shifting in colour from mid-grey to light brown and eventually dark red.

Observing these subtle yet remarkable changes in the Black Sparrowhawk’s appearance and behaviour offers a window into the intriguing nuances of nature’s cycle. It’s a testament to the marvels of growth, adaptation, and the intricate dances of life these majestic creatures perform.