Aviceda madagascariensisMadagascan cuckoo-hawk(Also: Madagascar baza)

Geographic Range

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks range throughout the island of Madagascar in various forest habitat, and are found from sea level to about 1,800 m elevation. They are less common in the southern plateau part of the island. (Langrand, 1990; Sinclair and Langrand, 2004)


Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are native to Madagascar, distributed throughout forest zones, subtropical, tropical, and moist lowland areas. They are found in all types of forest, secondary forest growth, forest edges and forest clearings, but less commonly in palm and coconut plantations. Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are also found in evergreen and dry deciduous forests, wooded savanna, and dense scrub. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Langrand, 1990; Sinclair and Langrand, 2004)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 1800 m
    0.00 to 5905.51 ft

Physical Description

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are medium-sized raptors, about 40 to 45 cm long, with a wingspan from 31 to 33 cm, and a tail length of 19 to 23 cm. The head is small and flat with a slight crest, usually not visible in the field. Adults are dark mottled brown above, except for a whitish rump. The underparts are lighter, consisting of a white chest, lighter brown to white belly with brown bands; brown streaks on the throat and extending to a band across the chest. The long, narrow tail is notched with white upper-tail coverts. The upper side of the tail is brown; the under side of the tail is gray with three dark brown bands. The feet and short legs are a dull yellow-grey color with a slight pink cast. The cere is whitish.

Adults differ from juveniles by having brown or dull yellow eyes and a greyish brown orbital ring, slightly paler than the head. Juveniles have brown eyes, are darker brown above and extending on the sides of chest, and have more white bands on the head and base of tail. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Hutchins, et al., 2002; Langrand, 1990; Sinclair and Langrand, 2004)

This species is monotypic. They are considered a "superspecies" with the closely related species African cuckoo-hawks. Aviceda cuculoides differs from A. madagascariensis in its smaller size, less brown coloration, and more black edges on the body. Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are also confused with Madagascar buzzards which are heavier, larger, and stockier birds with short, rounded tails and broad rounded wings with unevenly marked wing-linings. Madagascar buzzards have no dark band on the breast and a brown or blotched chest (as opposed to Aviceda madagascariensis with a lighter, white chest). Madagascan cuckoo-hawks differ from Henst's goshawks and other smaller accipiters in being much larger and differing in shape and pattern. Henst's goshawks have short wings, no crest, and longer legs, with barred patterns on the chest and little contrast between chest and breast, or with a nearly plain pattern on both. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Hutchins, et al., 2002; Langrand, 1990; Sinclair and Langrand, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • Range length
    40 to 45 cm
    15.75 to 17.72 in
  • Range wingspan
    315 to 331 mm
    12.40 to 13.03 in


Little is known about the reproductive behaviors of Madagascan cuckoo-hawks due to a lack of studies and banding efforts, especially in tropical species. Large territories make it difficult to observe raptor behavior and many raptors will avoid their nest area when an observer is present. Males are believed to attract mates with a soaring display of tumbling courtship flight and holding wings high while rocking. Displaying has been seen in September with flights straight above the canopy, then the male tilts sideways with a wing flutter. Similar species of Accipitridae are thought to be monogamous. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Hutchins, et al., 2002; Kimball, et al., 2003)

There is little data on reproduction in this species. Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are solitary birds, except during breeding season when they are paired with a mate. They lay two to three eggs from October to December. Nesting activity has been observed in November and December; flimsy nests are built high in the canopy and lined with leaves. A nest was observed at 14 m in a tree crown. As with other bazas, incubation probably takes about thirty two days and fledging about five weeks. Sexual maturity typically takes two years in related raptors. (Hutchins, et al., 2002; Langrand, 1990)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding intervals in Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are not known.
  • Breeding season
    Nesting has been observed in November and December; eggs are laid from October to December.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 4
  • Average time to hatching
    32 days
  • Average fledging age
    5 weeks

There is little information on Madagascan cuckoo-hawk parental investment. Both parents contribute to caring for offspring that they incubate and care for through fledgling, which occurs at about 5 weeks after hatching. Pairs have been seen feeding insects to young in nests. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Hutchins, et al., 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Lifespan of Madagascan cuckoo-hawks is not reported. Deforestation may be increasing mortality in populations. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)


Behavior is poorly known since this species has not been well studied. Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are solitary outside of the breeding season. They do not migrate and are generally observed in forests perched among foliage. Adults remain in a home range, juveniles may roam more widely in search of a home range. They hunt during the day or at dusk using their keen eyesight and sharp talons to capture prey. (Hutchins, et al., 2002; Langrand, 1990)

Compared to other accipiters, Madagascan cuckoo-hawks have long, less pointed wings, and longer tails. Flight is characterized by slow, stiff beats mixed with gliding on level wings. The wings are held forward and slightly angled. They use the tail as a rudder during glides and bulge their secondary feathers. Juveniles are difficult to distinguish in flight except that they have white head streaks, the base of the tail is whiter, and they have darker blotches that extend to the sides of the chest. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

Home Range

Home range sizes of Madagascan cuckoo-hawks have not been documented. ("International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; Red List for Endangered Species", 2007; Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

Communication and Perception

The voice of Madagascan cuckoo-hawks is unknown, but they may have a weak mew or whistle as do other cuckoo-hawks and bazas. Mating displays indicate that they use visual cues to communicate. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks use their sensitive and sharp eyesight to visualize movement. Eyes of members of the genus Aviceda contain red oil droplets that act as filters, allowing them to detect movement and distinguish prey from the green of vegetation. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks hide in foliage usually around forest edges and clearings, they actively hunt during the day or dusk. They hunt from a concealed perch in the canopy and snatch prey from foliage by gliding from the perched position. They have been observed gliding as far as 70 to 90 m for prey. Madagascan cuckoo-hawks eat mainly large insects, grasshoppers, small frogs, chameleons, other reptiles, and small mammals. They have been observed eating fork-marked lemurs Phaner furcifer and reptiles and geckos including Chamaeleo, Phelsuma, and Gekko. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001; Hutchins, et al., 2002; Langrand, 1990)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects


Information on predation on Madagascan cuckoo-hawks has not been reported.

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks impact the populations of their prey and may be one of the top predators in their Malagasy habitats. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks, as top predators, play an important ecosystem role in native forested habitats. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of A. madagascariensis on humans. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Conservation Status

Madagascan cuckoo-hawks are considered least concern by the IUCN redlist. Populations are threatened by deforestation, increasing human activity, and over-exploitation of wildlife. Their mapped distribution covers over 350,000 km^2, but their range is restricted to forest areas, which make up less than one-third of that area. Also, less than 10% of primary forest in Madagascar remains, putting this species at long-term risk. They do adapt to secondary growth habitat, but have disappeared from the deforested, dry plateau regions of southern Madagascar. Populations and densities have not been quantified but appear to be declining due to loss of habitat. The number of individuals is estimated at less than 10,000.

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the IUCN-World Conservation Union, has developed a Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) to help reduce the risk of extinction of many African Falconiformes, including Madagascan cuckoo-hawks. This includes preserving habitat, increasing information gathered in the field including ecological roles, improved monitoring techniques, and captive breeding. ("International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; Red List for Endangered Species", 2007; Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Vanessa Slack (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec R. Lindsay (editor, instructor), Northern Michigan University.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


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


active at dawn and dusk


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.


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.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


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).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

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


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

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

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


2007. "International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; Red List for Endangered Species" (On-line). BirdLife International, 2004. Accessed April 05, 2008 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/49306/all.

Endangered Wildlife Trust Raptor Conservation Group. Selected African Falconiformes: Conservation Assessment and Management Plan - Working Draft Report. Apple Valley, MN: IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. 2000.

Ferguson-Lees, J., D. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the World. New York, NY: Houghton Miffling Company.

Hutchins, M., J. Jackson, W. Bock, D. Olendorf. 2002. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, second edition: Volume 8, Birds 1. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Kimball, R., P. Parker, B. James. 2003. OCCURRENCE AND EVOLUTION OF COOPERATIVE BREEDING AMONG THE DIURNAL RAPTORS (ACCIPITRIDAE AND FALCONIDAE). The Auk, Volume 120, Issue 3: 717-729. Accessed April 05, 2008 at http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1642%2F0004-8038%282003%29120%5B0717%3AOAEOCB%5D2.0.CO%3B2.

Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to the Birds of Madagascar. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Sinclair, I., O. Langrand. 2004. Birds of the Indian Ocean. South Africa: Struik.