Accipiter is a genus of birds of prey in the family Accipitridae. With nearly 50 recognized species it is the most diverse genus in its family. Most species are called goshawks or sparrowhawks, although almost all New World species (excepting the northern goshawk) are simply known as hawks. They can be anatomically distinguished from their relatives by the lack of a procoracoid foramen. Two small and aberrant species usually placed here do possess a large procoracoid foramen and are also distinct as regards DNA sequence. They may warrant separation in the old genus Hieraspiza.[1]

Extant accipiters range in size from the little sparrowhawk (A. minullus), in which the smallest males measure 20 cm (7.9 in) long, span 39 cm (15 in) across the wings and weigh 68 g (2.4 oz), to the northern goshawk (A. gentilis), in which the largest females measure 64 cm (25 in) long, span 127 cm (50 in) across the wings, and weigh 2.2 kg (4.9 lb).[2] These birds are slender with short, broad, rounded wings and a long tail which helps them maneuver in flight. They have long legs and long, sharp talons used to kill their prey, and a sharp, hooked bill used in feeding. Females tend to be larger than males. They often ambush their prey, mainly small birds and mammals, capturing them after a short chase. The typical flight pattern is a series of flaps followed by a short glide. They are commonly found in wooded or shrubby areas.

The genus Accipiter was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 with the Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) as the type species.[3][4] The name is Latin for "hawk", from accipere, "to grasp".[5]

Collared Sparrowhawk kobble08
Collared sparrowhawk (A. cirrocephalus),
Kobble Creek (Queensland, Australia)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Accipitrinae
Genus: Accipiter
Brisson, 1760
About 50 species

Hieraspiza Kaup, 1844 (but see text)

Species in taxonomic order

Shikra (Accipiter badius) with a Garden Lizard W IMG 8995
Shikra (A. badius) with a garden lizard (Calotes sp.) in Hyderabad, India
Brown Goshawk kur
Brown goshawk (A. fasciatus), Kurwongbah (Queensland, Australia)

Extinct species include:

An Accipiter was seen on 12 March 1994 south of the summit of Camiguin in the Philippines, where the genus was not known to occur. It may have been an undescribed taxon, but more likely it was not; it could simply have been a vagrant of a known species.[7]

Procoracoid foramen

The procoracoid foramen (or coracoid foramen, coracoid fenestra) is a hole through the process at the front of the coracoid bone, which accommodates the supracoracoideus nerve. In some groups of birds it may be present as a notch, or incisura; or the notch may be partially or weakly closed with bone. In other groups the feature is completely absent.

The foramen is generally present in birds of prey, but it is absent in most Accipiter hawks that have been studied. This absence is proposed as a diagnostic feature.

A study of accipitrid skeletons found procoracoid incisurae (as opposed to foramina) in some specimens of the eagles Aquila gurneyi and A. chrysaetos, but not in four other Aquila species. The notch was variably open or weakly ossified in Spizastur melanoleucos, Lophoaetus occipitalis, Spizaetus ornatus, and Stephanoaetus coronatus. Also the buteonine hawks Buteo brachyurus and B. hemilasius had incisurae, differing from 17 other Buteo species.[8]

In Circus the foramen was found to be variable, not only within species but even between sides in the same individual. It is usually open or absent but may be closed by "a thread of bone". Research in genetic phylogeny has since indicated that Circus is closely related to Accipiter.

The notch was also absent or indistinct in Harpagus bidentatus.

Urotriorchis macrourus has a well-developed procoracoid foramen, which suggests a separation from Accipiter. It may be related to the chanting goshawks in tribe Melieraxini.[9]

Genetic phylogeny

Analysis of molecular genetics indicates that Accipiter is paraphyletic to the Circus harriers, even though the two groups differ in hunting habits and body shape.[10] There are three or four clades of Accipiter, with Circus, Megatriorchis and Erythrotriorchis intermixed.

John Boyd proposes splitting Accipiter into four separate genera: Aerospiza, Tachyspiza, Accipiter, and Astur.[11] In this scheme Tachyspiza has the most species, and a reduced Accipiter would have only six: Eurasian sparrowhawk (A. nisus, type species), rufous-breasted sparrowhawk (A. rufiventris), sharp-shinned hawk (A. striatus), white-breasted hawk (A. chionogaster), plain-breasted hawk (A. ventralis), rufous-thighed hawk (A. erythronemius).


  1. ^ a b Olson (2006)
  2. ^ Raptors of the World by Ferguson-Lees, Christie, Franklin, Mead & Burton. Houghton Mifflin (2001), ISBN 0-618-12762-3.
  3. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie; ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, espéces & leurs variétés (in French). Volume 1. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. pp. 28, 310.
  4. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 323.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ a b Balouet, J.C.; Olson, Storrs L. (1989). "Fossil birds from Late Quaternary deposits in New Caledonia" (PDF). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. 469: 6–7. doi:10.5479/si.00810282.469.
  7. ^ Balete et al. (2006); Heaney & Tabaranza (2006)
  8. ^ Olson, Storrs (1988). "Variation in the procoracoid foramen in the Accipitridae" (PDF). Riv. Ital. Orn. 57 (3–4): 161–164. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  9. ^ Boyd, John. "Afroaves", Taxonomy in Flux Checklist
  10. ^ Boyd cites the following sources for the embedding of Circus: Kocum (2006), Griffiths et al. (2007), Lerner et al. (2008), and Nagy and Tökölyi (2014)
  11. ^ His species-level arrangement is based on: Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004), Breman et al. (2013), Barrowclough et al. (2014), Nagy and Tökölyi (2014) and Kocum (2006)

Further reading

  • Balete, Danilo S.; Tabaranza, Blas R. Jr. & Heaney, Lawrence R. (2006): An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Camiguin Island, Philippines. Fieldiana Zool. New Series 106: 58–72. DOI:10.3158/0015-0754(2006)106[58:AACOTB]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Heaney, Lawrence R. & Tabaranza, Blas R. Jr. (2006): Mammal and Land Bird Studies on Camiguin Island, Philippines: Background and Conservation Priorities. Fieldiana Zool. New Series 106: 1-13. DOI:10.3158/0015-0754(2006)106[1:MALBSO]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Olson, Storrs L. (2006): Reflections on the systematics of Accipiter and the genus for Falco superciliosus Linnaeus. Bull. B.O.C. 126: 69-70. PDF fulltext. Archived copy.

External links


The besra, also called the besra sparrowhawk (Accipiter virgatus) is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae.

The besra is a widespread resident breeder in dense forests throughout southern Asia, ranging from the Indian subcontinent eastwards across Southeast Asia and into East Asia. It nests in trees, building a new nest each year. It lays 2 to 5 eggs.

This bird is a medium-sized raptor (29 to 36 cm) with short broad wings and a long tail, both adaptations to fast maneuvering through dense vegetation. The normal flight of this species is a characteristic "flap–flap–glide".

This species is like a darker version of the widespread shikra with darker upperparts, strongly barred underwing, broader gular stripe and thin long legs and toes. The adult male besra has dark blue-grey upperparts, and is white, barred reddish brown below. The larger female is browner above than the male. The juvenile is dark brown above and white, barred with brown below. In all plumages have 3-4 equally sized dark bands on uppertail.

In winter, the besra will emerge into more open woodland including savannah and cultivation. Its hunting technique is similar to other small hawks such as the sparrowhawk and the sharp-shinned hawk, relying on surprise as it flies from a hidden perch or flicks over a bush to catch its prey unaware.

The prey is lizards, dragonflies, and small birds and mammals.

Bicolored hawk

The bicolored hawk (Accipiter bicolor) is a species of bird of prey in the Accipitridae family. It is found in forest, woodland, second growth, plantations, and wooded savanna in southeastern Mexico, Central America, and northern and central South America (as far south as northern Argentina). Though generally uncommon, it is the most common species of Accipiter in most of its range, but it does not occur at altitudes above 2,700 metres (8,900 ft) such as the highest parts of the Andes.

Black sparrowhawk

The black sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus), sometimes known as the black goshawk or great sparrowhawk, is the largest African member of the genus Accipiter. It occurs mainly in forests and non-desert areas south of the Sahara, particularly where there are large trees suitable for nesting; favored habitat includes suburban and human-altered landscapes. It preys predominantly on birds of moderate size, such as pigeons and doves, in suburban areas.

Brown goshawk

The brown goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus) is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae found in Australia and surrounding islands.

Chinese sparrowhawk

The Chinese sparrowhawk (Accipiter soloensis) is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. Also called Chinese goshawk or grey frog hawk.

It breeds in Southeast China, Taiwan, Korea and Siberia; winters in Indonesia and Philippines, passing through the rest of Southeast Asia. It is a bird of wooded areas.

It is 30–36 cm in length, with the female larger than the male. Adult has prominent black wing tips. The male is grey above, white below and has red eyes. Female has rufous on breast and underwing coverts, and yellow eyes. Juvenile has grey face, brown upperparts and yellow eyes. The top underparts are streaked, while the thighs are barred. The black wing tips are not as prominent and underwings streaked (except for coverts).

It feeds mainly on frogs, but will take lizards as well. Lives mainly in forests but sometime lives on edges. Population between 10000 and 100000 birds

Collared sparrowhawk

The collared sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus) is a small, slim bird of prey in the family Accipitridae found in Australia, New Guinea and nearby smaller islands. As its name implies the collared sparrowhawk is a specialist in hunting small birds. It is characterised by its slight brow ridges and slender feet. The last segment of their middle toe projects beyond the claws of the other toes.

Cooper's hawk

Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium-sized hawk native to the North American continent and found from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico. As in many birds of prey, the male is smaller than the female. The birds found east of the Mississippi River tend to be larger on average than the birds found to the west. Other common names for the Cooper's hawk include: big blue darter, chicken hawk, flying cross, hen hawk, quail hawk, striker, and swift hawk.

Crested goshawk

The crested goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus) is a bird of prey from tropical Asia. It is related to other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards (or buteos) and harriers, and thus placed in the family Accipitridae.

Eurasian sparrowhawk

The Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), also known as the northern sparrowhawk or simply the sparrowhawk, is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. Adult male Eurasian sparrowhawks have bluish grey upperparts and orange-barred underparts; females and juveniles are brown above with brown barring below. The female is up to 25% larger than the male – one of the greatest size differences between the sexes in any bird species. Though it is a predator which specialises in catching woodland birds, the Eurasian sparrowhawk can be found in any habitat and often hunts garden birds in towns and cities. Males tend to take smaller birds, including tits, finches, and sparrows; females catch primarily thrushes and starlings, but are capable of killing birds weighing 500 g (18 oz) or more.

The Eurasian sparrowhawk is found throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the Old World; while birds from the northern parts of the range migrate south for winter, their southern counterparts remain resident or make dispersive movements. Eurasian sparrowhawks breed in suitable woodland of any type, with the nest, measuring up to 60 cm (2.0 ft) across, built using twigs in a tree. Four or five pale blue, brown-spotted eggs are laid; the success of the breeding attempt is dependent on the female maintaining a high weight while the male brings her food. The chicks hatch after 33 days and fledge after 24 to 28 days.

The probability of a juvenile surviving its first year is 34%, with 69% of adults surviving from one year to the next. Mortality in young males is greater than that of young females and the typical lifespan is four years. This species is now one of the most common birds of prey in Europe, although the population crashed after the Second World War. Organochlorine insecticides used to treat seeds before sowing built up in the bird population, and the concentrations in Eurasian sparrowhawks were enough to kill some outright and incapacitate others; affected birds laid eggs with fragile shells which broke during incubation. However, its population recovered after the chemicals were banned, and it is now relatively common, classified as being of Least Concern by BirdLife International.

The Eurasian sparrowhawk's hunting behaviour has brought it into conflict with humans for hundreds of years, particularly racing pigeon owners and people rearing poultry and gamebirds. It has also been blamed for decreases in passerine populations. The increase in population of the Eurasian Sparrowhawk coincides with the decline in House Sparrows in Britain. Studies of racing pigeon deaths found that Eurasian sparrowhawks were responsible for less than 1%. Falconers have utilised the Eurasian sparrowhawk since at least the 16th century; although the species has a reputation for being difficult to train, it is also praised for its courage. The species features in Teutonic mythology and is mentioned in works by writers including William Shakespeare, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Ted Hughes.


Goshawk may refer to several species of birds of prey, mainly in the genus Accipiter:

Northern goshawk, Accipiter gentilis, often referred to simply as the goshawk, since it is the only goshawk found in much of its range (in Europe and North America)

Crested goshawk, Accipiter trivirgatus

Sulawesi goshawk, Accipiter griseiceps

Red-chested goshawk, Accipiter toussenelii

African goshawk, Accipiter tachiro

Imitator goshawk, Accipiter imitator

Grey goshawk, Accipiter novaehollandiae

Brown goshawk, Accipiter fasciatus

Christmas goshawk, Accipiter (fasciatus) natalis

Black-mantled goshawk, Accipiter melanochlamys

Slaty-mantled goshawk Accipiter luteoschistaceus

Pied goshawk, Accipiter albogularis

Fiji goshawk, Accipiter rufitorques

White-bellied goshawk, Accipiter haplochrous

Moluccan goshawk, Accipiter henicogrammus

Grey-headed goshawk, Accipiter poliocephalus

New Britain goshawk, Accipiter princeps

Henst's goshawk, Accipiter henstii

Meyer's goshawk, Accipiter meyerianus

Shikra, Accipiter badius

†Powerful goshawk, Accipiter efficax

†Gracile goshawk, Accipiter quartusbut also the following:

Gabar goshawk, Melierax gabar

Dark chanting goshawk, Melierax metabates

Eastern chanting goshawk, Melierax poliopterus

Pale chanting goshawk, Melierax canorus

Red goshawk, Erythrotriorchis radiatus

Chestnut-shouldered goshawk, Erythrotriorchis buergersi

Doria's goshawk, Megatriorchis doriae

Grey goshawk

The grey goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) the white morph of which is known as the white goshawk, is a strongly built, medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae.

Japanese sparrowhawk

The Japanese sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers.

It breeds in China, Japan, Korea and Siberia; winters in Indonesia and Philippines, passing through the rest of South-east Asia. It is a bird of open and wooded areas.

Levant sparrowhawk

The Levant sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) is a small bird of prey. It measures 32–38 cm (13–15 in) in length with a wingspan of 65–75 cm (26–30 in). The female is larger than the male, but the difference is not as marked as with Eurasian sparrowhawk. The adult male is blue-grey above, with dark wingtips, and barred reddish below.

The adult female is slate-grey above with darkish wingtips. She is barred reddish brown below, and may show a dark throat line. The juvenile is dark brown above and has dark-streaked underparts. It shows a dark throat line. It breeds in forests from Greece and the Balkans east to southern Russia. It is migratory, wintering from Egypt across to southwestern Iran. It will migrate in large flocks, unlike the more widespread Eurasian sparrowhawk.

The Levant sparrowhawk nests in trees, building a new nest, lined with green leaves, each year. The normal clutch is 3–5 eggs. It hunts small birds, insects, rodents, and lizards in woodland or semi-desert areas, relying on surprise as it flies from a perch to catch its prey unaware.

This bird is a small raptor with short broad wings and a longish tail, both adaptations to manoeuvring through trees. It is similar to the Eurasian sparrowhawk, but its shorter tail and more pointed wings give it a more falcon-like appearance.

The flight of this hawk is a characteristic flap – flap – glide.

The call is a sharp kee-wick.

Little sparrowhawk

The little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus) is a species of Afrotropical bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is the smallest member of the genus Accipiter and forms a superspecies with the red-thighed sparrowhawk (Accipiter erythropus).

Northern goshawk

The northern goshawk (; Accipiter gentilis) is a medium-large raptor in the family Accipitridae, which also includes other extant diurnal raptors, such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. As a species in the genus Accipiter, the goshawk is often considered a "true hawk". The scientific name is Latin; Accipiter is "hawk", from accipere, "to grasp", and gentilis is "noble" or "gentle" because in the Middle Ages only the nobility were permitted to fly goshawks for falconry.This species was first described under its current scientific name by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758.It is a widespread species that inhabits many of the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The northern goshawk is the only species in the genus Accipiter found in both Eurasia and North America. It may have the widest distribution of any true member of the family Accipitridae, behind arguably only the hen harrier (Circus cyaenus) (which is often considered two species between North America and Eurasia) and occurring over a slightly wider range than either golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) or rough-legged buzzards (Buteo lagopus). Except in a small portion of southern Asia, it is the only species of "goshawk" in its range and it is thus often referred to, both officially and unofficially, as simply the "goshawk". It is mainly resident, but birds from colder regions migrate south for the winter. In North America, migratory goshawks are often seen migrating south along mountain ridge tops at nearly any time of the fall depending on latitude.

Red-chested goshawk

The red-chested goshawk (Accipiter toussenelii) is a medium size hawk of West Africa. It is often considered conspecific with the African goshawk.

Sharp-shinned hawk

The sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small hawk, with males being the smallest hawks in the United States and Canada, but with the species averaging larger than some Neotropical species, such as the tiny hawk. The taxonomy is far from resolved, with some authorities considering the southern taxa to represent three separate species: white-breasted hawk (A. chionogaster), plain-breasted hawk (A. ventralis), and rufous-thighed hawk (A. erythronemius). The American Ornithological Society keeps all four species conspecific.


The shikra (Accipiter badius) is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae found widely distributed in Asia and Africa where it is also called the little banded goshawk. The African forms may represent a separate species but have usually been considered as subspecies of the shikra. The shikra is very similar in appearance to other sparrowhawk species including the Chinese goshawk and Eurasian sparrowhawk. They have a sharp two note call and have the typical flap and glide flight. Their calls are imitated by drongos and the common hawk-cuckoo resembles it in plumage.


Sparrowhawk (sometimes sparrow hawk) may refer to several species of small hawk in the genus Accipiter. "Sparrow-hawk" or sparhawk originally referred to Accipiter nisus, now called "Eurasian" or "northern" sparrowhawk to distinguish it from other species.

The American kestrel (Falco sparverius), a North American falcon species, is also commonly referred to as a sparrowhawk.

Hawk species include:

Chestnut-flanked sparrowhawk, A. castanilius

Collared sparrowhawk, A. cirrocephalus

Eurasian sparrowhawk, A. nisus

Chinese sparrowhawk, A. soloensis

Spot-tailed sparrowhawk, A. trinotatus

Japanese sparrowhawk, A. gularis

Levant sparrowhawk, A. brevipes

Little sparrowhawk, A. minullus

Madagascar sparrowhawk, A. madagascariensis

New Britain sparrowhawk, A. brachyurus

Nicobar sparrowhawk, A. butleri

Ovampo sparrowhawk, A. ovampensis

Black sparrowhawk, A. melanoleucus

Red-thighed sparrowhawk, A. erythropus

Rufous-chested sparrowhawk, A. rufiventris

Rufous-necked sparrowhawk, A. erythrauchen

Slaty-mantled sparrowhawk, A. luteoschistaceus

Dwarf sparrowhawk, A. nanus

Vinous-breasted sparrowhawk, A. rhodogaster

Frances's sparrowhawk, A. francesii

Anjouan sparrowhawk, or Ndzuwani goshawk Accipiter francesii pusillus, an extremely rare, possibly extinct, subspecies of Frances's sparrowhawk

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