Accipiter minullusAfrican little sparrowhawk(Also: little sparrowhawk)

Geographic Range

Little Sparrowhawks, Accipiter minullus, lives in the Ethiopian Region of Africa and most of the land south ("Little Sparrowhawk," 2021). The bird is endemic to Africa and lives nowhere outside of the continent. They are non-migratory birds, so they stay in the same region year-round (Kemp and Marks 2020). Little Sparrowhawks can be found as far north as the country of Sudan and as far south as the tip of South Africa (Kemp 2010). (Kemp, 2010; Kemp and Marks, 2020; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2019a; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2021)


Accipiter minullus lives in areas with a lot of ground cover, dense bushes, and undergrowth (iziko museums 2005). They live in the forests and wooded areas that typically dot and surround the savanna in Africa, so their habitat is somewhat naturally fragmented (Kemp 2010). Little Sparrowhawks are not found in the rainforests of Africa though, only the deciduous and evergreen forests since the rainforest floors are too dense for them to spot prey. They stay relatively close to the ground in the trees and hunt on the forest floor (The Peregrine Fund 2014). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005; Kemp, 2010; Kemp and Marks, 2020; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2021; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2014)

Physical Description

Male and female Little Sparrowhawks have the same colors and do not vary greatly in size. The head and bill are grey with yellow eyes. Their back is a black or grey color with a brown throat and the legs are yellow (The Kruger National Park 2019). The length ranges from 23 to 27 centimeters with about half of their length being compromised by the tail ("Little Sparrowhawk," 2019). The females have a much wider range of weight from 68 to 105 grams in comparison to males which weigh from 74 to 85 grams. Little Sparrowhawks have a wingspan of about 39 to 50 centimeters (Kemp 2010). (Kemp, 2010; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2019a; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2019b)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    68 to 105 g
    2.40 to 3.70 oz
  • Average mass
    80 g
    2.82 oz
  • Range length
    23 to 27 cm
    9.06 to 10.63 in
  • Range wingspan
    39 to 52 cm
    15.35 to 20.47 in


Accipiter minullus is a monogamous species, having only one lifelong mate. If that mate dies, they will find a new one (The Kruger National Park 2019). Little Sparrowhawks breed seasonally and lay eggs from September to December, which is right before the wet season in Africa. To find a mate, male Little Sparrowhawks perform a ritual in which he positions his body horizontally and sways his head from side to side to gain the female’s attention. Mated pairs of Little Sparrowhawks are known to live on the same territory, which is one of the reasons the bird may not be solitary (iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2019b)

Little Sparrowhawks lay about one to three eggs in the breeding season from September to December. They traditionally breed once a year (iziko museums 2005). The eggs are in the incubation stage for about 31 to 32 days with a nestling period of about 25 to 27 days (Liversidge 1962). After they become somewhat independent the young will stay close to their parents for up to a year before going out on their own (iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005; Liversidge, 1962)

  • Breeding interval
    Accipiter minullus breed once a year
  • Breeding season
    Accipiter minullus breed from September to December
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 3
  • Range time to hatching
    31 to 32 days
  • Average time to hatching
    31 days
  • Range fledging age
    25 to 27 days
  • Range time to independence
    12 (high) months

Before the eggs are laid, the nest is mainly built by the female Accipiter minullus. They build their nests in trees and are sometimes observed to use the old nests of other birds instead of building their own (iziko museums 2005). Once the eggs are laid, the female Little Sparrowhawks do most of the incubation while the male provides her food at the nest. When the eggs hatch the female primarily stays at the nest and the male brings food for her and the young (The Peregrine Fund 2014). Female Little Sparrowhawks are very territorial of their nests and will chase away other birds that come close (Liversidge 1962). Once the chicks leave the nest and are self-sustaining, they may still stay in the parental territory for up to a year. After this time the offspring will leave and have no further contact with their parents (iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005; Liversidge, 1962; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2014)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • female


Little is known about the lifespan of this specific species of sparrowhawk. Individuals of the very closely related Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) live for about four years in the wild. The oldest individual of A. nisus lived to twenty years in captivity (Robinson 2005). (Robinson, 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 years


Accipiter minullus are primarily a solitary species (The Kruger National Park 2014). If they are seen together it is usually a mated pair sharing the same territory. Little Sparrowhawks do not migrate and remain in their territory year-round (Kemp and Marks 2020). (Kemp and Marks, 2020; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2019b)

Communication and Perception

Accipiter minullus is regarded as quiet birds. Male and female Little Sparrowhawks have slightly different calls from each other. The call of male A. minullus has been described as louder and more high-pitched than the softer call of the female (Kemp 2010). When trying to attract a mate, male Little Sparrowhawks perform a mating dance in which they perch their body horizontally and swing their head from side to side (iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005; Kemp, 2010)

Food Habits

The Accipiter minullus eats mostly small birds (The Peregrine Fund 2014). Any animal smaller than the Little Sparrowhawks on their territory is fair game for a meal. Along with small birds, their diet includes small mammals, lizards, frogs, and insects. The insects that the Accipiter minullus has been recorded eating are different species of termites, beetles, butterflies, and locusts. Their small mammal diet includes rodents and bats (iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2014)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects


Little Sparrowhawks do not have many predators since it is a predator itself. Little Sparrowhawks are smaller birds though, so they still have to look out for larger predators. The great eyesight of A. minullus keeps the bird aware of its surroundings in case of a potential threat. If the nestlings of Little Sparrowhawks are at risk their brown color keeps them camouflaged in the nest (Iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Accipiter minullus is a predator in its ecosystem. It is not the top predator that goes after large prey but rather it goes after smaller animals in the ecosystem. It controls the populations of small animals including other birds, reptiles, and rodents (iziko museums 2005). ("Accipiter minullus", 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no definitive positive effects of Accipiter minullus on humans. There is a possibility that they might eat some small pests.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Accipiter minullus on humans.

Conservation Status

Accipiter minullus is categorized as Least Concern on IUCN because they have adapted to co-exist with humans in high population areas. The population of Little Sparrowhawks has been speculated to be increasing in Southern Africa as they have learned to live in the newer exotic tree plantations (The Peregrine Fund 2014). One current threat to Little Sparrowhawks could be the use of pesticides that bioaccumulate in their prey. However, this has not been confirmed (Kemp 2010). (Kemp, 2010; "Little Sparrowhawk", 2014)

Other Comments

Accipiter minullus has been described as a species that is often overlooked in their habitat as they quietly hunt small prey in their territory and mainly keep to themselves. They have often been confused with other species including A. erythropus and A. tachiro because of their similar coloring (Kemp 2010). (Kemp, 2010)


Cassidy Payne (author), Colorado State University, Nathan Dorff (editor), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Iziko Museums of South Africa. 2005. "Accipiter minullus" (On-line). Biodiversity explorer. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

2021. "Accipiter minullus" (On-line). ITIS Report. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

2019. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). Avibase. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

2021. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). Bird Life Internatinal. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

2021. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). DiBird. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

The Peregrine Fund. 2014. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). Global Raptor Information Network. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

The Kruger National Park. 2019. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). The Kruger National Park. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

Kemp, A. 2010. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). Wayback Machine. Accessed February 23, 2021 at

Kemp, A., J. Marks. 2020. "Little Sparrowhawk" (On-line). Birds of the World. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

Liversidge, R. 1962. "The Breeding Biology of the Little Sparrowhawk Accipiter minullus" (On-line pdf). Wiley Online Library. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

Louette, M. 2010. Evolutionary exposition from plumage pattern in African Accipiter.

Systematics Of Afrotropical Birds
: 45-50. Accessed February 14, 2021 at

Robinson, R. 2005. "Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus" (On-line). British Trust for Ornithology. Accessed February 23, 2021 at