Friday, 1 February 2013

African Harrier Hawk

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Accipitridae     Family : Polyboroides typus

The African harrier hawk is like many other raptors, except for its unfeathered face, which blushes to a deep red when startled or during mating displays. The African harrier hawk is uniquely equipped for a life as a stealthy hunter; it has extremely keen vision for locating elusive prey. They found in Africa: South Africa, east to Natal, north to Botswana, northern Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, then north to the Sahara Desert.

Habitat : The African harrier hawk frequents a variety of landscapes throughout its range in central and southern Africa, including forest, woodland and savannah. It is most often found at the top of tall trees fringing the larger rivers or in hilly country where there are deep ravines and steep hillsides. 

Food & hunting : The African harrier hawk seeks out elusive prey. With its ability to bend its legs forward and backward, this hawk can reach deep into holes or crevices and grab prey that is safe from other raptors.The African harrier hawk shows a variety of hunting skills: it climbs around on the branches of trees, using its wings for balance; it hangs upside down for long periods of time as it explores nooks and crannies for a hidden meal; it soars slowly along the edge of hillsides and ravines and scans carefully for potential prey. Unlike other raptors, this hawk is not a very powerful bird and normally settles for prey about as large as a lizard. In certain parts of its range, the African harrier hawk is known to eat the fruit of the oil palm, but mostly its diet consists of lizards, small birds, insects and rodents. 

Behavior : The African harrier hawk’s most unusual behavior is that it blushes. Whereas most raptors have feathered faces, this hawk’s face is unfeathered to assist it in probing into holes for food. Unexpected disturbances, such as a branch snapping, can trigger the face (normally pale yellow) to blush a deep red. Encounters between breeding pairs also result in blushing; this is believed to represent an appeasement signal, especially during courtship, and switches in incubation duty. 

Breeding : Courtship for the African harrier hawk occurs in the air. At the onset of the breeding season, the pair can be seen soaring together in display flights involving shallow dives and upward swoops accompanied by drawn-out whistles. These displays usually end in a long glide to the nest area. The stick nest is built in a tree by both sexes, usually from 30–150' from the ground, and is lined with green leaves. Usually 2 eggs are laid and both sexes incubate. After about 35 days, the eggs hatch at different intervals and the younger sibling usually dies of starvation as its older sibling takes all the food. 

Bill : The hawk’s hooked bill is used to tear the flesh of its prey. Its nostrils are protected by a soft membrane called the cere. 
Wings : The long, broad wings, paired with a small body, give this hawk its exceptional ability to sail slowly near the ground or the edges of hillsides while scanning for prey. 
Legs & Feet : The hawk’s intertarsal joint, or “knee,” can bend backward and forward, allowing the bird to reach deep into holes to snatch prey. 
Juvenile : Immature birds are dark brown with varying amounts of light-brown edging to the feathers. 

Weight : About 2 lbs. 
Length : 22-25"
Wingspan : 5'
Breeding Season : Spring and Summer 

The African harrier hawk is also known as the gymnogene, which means bare cheeks.

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