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African Harrier-Hawk
(Polyboroides typus)

African Harrier-Hawk

General description

The African harrier-hawk is a medium-sized raptor. Both sexes are similar with a small head, yellow face and long, slender, yellow legs.

This is the largest grey hawk in the region.

The upper parts, head and breast are pale grey. The belly is white with fine, dark barring. The broad wings are pale grey with a black trailing edge fringed with a narrow white line. The tail is black with a single broad white band.

Juveniles are dark brown.

The bare facial skin patch can flush reddish-pink during social interactions, especially during breeding season.

In flight these birds have very broad wings which are characteristic of the species.

The call is a whistled sueee-sueee-sueee.

Name & classification

Scientific name:
Polyboroides typus

Common names:
African Harrier-Hawk, Gymnogene (English)
Kaalwangvalk (Afrikaans)

Roberts VII english name:
African Harrier-Hawk

Roberts VII scientific name:
Polyboroides typus

Kites, Hawks and Eagles (Accipitridae)

Further information



The African Harrier-hawk is omnivorous, eating the fruit of the oil palm as well as hunting small vertebrates and eggs.

Its ability to climb, using wings as well as feet, and its long double-jointed legs, enable this bird to raid the nests of cavity-nesters such as barbets, palm swifts and woodhoopoes for fledglings. It has been known to prey on introduced species such as feral pigeons, House Sparrows and Eastern Grey Squirrels.

It is also known to feed on frogs, reptiles and insects.

In South Africa it has specialised in robbing weaver nests.

These monogamous birds build a large stick nest in the fork of a tree, cliff face or the crown of a palm tree.

The clutch is one to three eggs.

Natural distribution:
African Harrier-hawks are fairly common throughout sub-Saharan Africa excluding driest regions of the Namib and Kalahari deserts.

African Harrier-hawks inhabit a wide range of natural woodland, tree plantations and urban areas.

An unusual trait of this species is the double-jointed knees it possesses, which enable it to reach into otherwise inaccessible holes and cracks for prey. A comparable leg-structure and behavior can be found in the Neotropical crane hawk; a case of convergent evolution.

The only other member of the genus is the allopatric (in separate non-overlapping geographical areas) Madagascan Harrier-hawk (Polyboroides radiatus).

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Roberts Bird Guide

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