Melierax canoruspale chanting goshawk(Also: pale chanting-goshawk)

Geographic Range

Melierax canorus is distributed through southern Africa. It is common in Namibia, Botswana and in the Cape Province. It is also found in Zimbabwe and Lesotho. (Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr, 2000; Sinclair and Ryan, 2003)


Pale chanting goshawks can be found throughout their range in arid habitats with less than 76.2 cm of rainfall per year. These habitats include the Namib Desert and other dry woodland, shrubland, and grassland areas. Pale chanting goshawks are often seen perching on trees and poles for power lines near the roads. These habitats are more arid than the areas where dark chanting goshawks (Melierax metabates) are found. (Brown, 2008; Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr, 2000; Malan, et al., 2008; Steyn, 2010)

Physical Description

Pale chanting goshawks are sexually dimorphic, with females larger than males. The average wing length in males is less than 350 mm, with secondary lengths less than 215 mm, female wing length is over 360 mm with secondary lengths over 220 mm. The mean wing area of adult males is 1560 mm and in females is around 1849 mm. Average body mass for adult males is 647 g and for females average 808 g. Juvenile wing length and body mass are comparable with adult males. Adult upper plumage is grey with a white rump and the crown is a darker grey that turns paler towards the neck. The upper tail feathers are barred grey and white that turns darker towards the center and tip of the tail. The chest, abdomen, and thighs are also barred finely with dark grey and white. The primary feathers are black with grey and the secondary feathers are pale grey with narrow white tips and specs. Adult legs are orange-reddish, the eyes are reddish-brown, and the beak is yellow. Juveniles have brownish upper plumage with brown and white barred tails. Adults are dark grey and the legs are yellowish-white that become red once they reach adulthood. Pale chanting goshawks have an upright posture when on the ground or in a tree. This species can often be confused with dark chanting goshawks except the plumage is paler with a white rump instead of grey. There are two subspecies in southern pale chanting goshawk group, including dark chanting goshawks (Melierax metabates) and eastern chanting goshawks (Melierax poliopterus). Ranges for these species do not overlap in central or southern Africa. (Mendlesohn, et al., 1989; Sinclair and Ryan, 2003; Steyn, 2010)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    600 to 850 g
    21.15 to 29.96 oz


Pale chanting goshawks are both monogamous and polyandrous. A monogamous pair includes one male and one female breeder. A polyandrous trio includes one female and two male breeders, one of which is an alpha male and the other a beta male. In this type of relationship, the beta male is always smaller than the alpha male. The beta male is usually known as the co-breeder who is an adult participating in all reproductive activities. At the onset of the breeding season the alpha male perches on top of a tall tree uttering at intervals his melodious display call, often for hours at a stretch. The dominant pair will also be seen soaring together in circles, at a height of about 200 to 300 feet doing flight displays. Mating season lasts from June to January every year and usually coincides with the latter half of the dry season extending into the early part of the wet season. Territorial behaviors exhibited towards intruders include fly diving (shallow swoops), fly mob (diving repeatedly and directly at intruder), fly mob and call (diving repeatedly while alarm calling, a quavering ee-e-e-e-e-e-e), fly striking (doing fly mob and physically struck intruder), spiral flight and aggressive call (flight in small circles with loud staccato kikiki-kikiki-kikiki), and cartwheel flight (locked feet in mid-air and whirling downward vertically). These behaviors are usually done at territory borders or within territories with neighboring families or intruder species. In a polyandrous trio, the males will often divide protection of the territory so that the female can stay at the nest. (Kimball, et al., 2003; Malan and Jenkins, 1996; Malan, et al., 2008; Malan, 1998; Malan, 2004; Malan, 2005)

Nests are built in trees, usually thorny acacias or euphorbs and are made of thin sticks padded down with whatever can be found. Clutch size is 1 to 2 eggs that are pale bluish or greenish white and unmarked. If there are two eggs laid, they can be at intervals up to several days. Dominant females incubate in a monogamous pair but, in a polyandrous trio, males help out with incubation. Juveniles from the previous year may stick around nest for months becoming non-breeding co-workers. Egg laying itself can start as early as May and continue to as late as November, depending on whether goshawks have a single brood year or a double brood year, where clutches are laid earlier in the year. Females cannot weigh more than 1050 g to have a breeding cycle shorter than 6 months which would mean a double brood. Studies have shown that polyandrous trios and monogamous pairs don't differ in the production of offspring, only in nest defense. Age of juvenile pale chanting goshawks is distinguished by molt stages. Plumage in 9 to 13 month olds shows no sign of molting, at 14 to 18 months old young are typically in some stage of molt, and after 18 months they have adult plumage. At this age, adult offspring are on their own and seek out their own breeding territories. (Kimball, et al., 2003; Malan and Jenkins, 1996; Malan, et al., 2008; Malan, 1998; Malan, 2004; Malan, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Pale chanting goshawks breed yearly with single or double broods.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season spans from May at the earliest to November at the latest.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 (high)
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    35 days
  • Range fledging age
    5 to 7 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    9 to 18 months
  • Average time to independence
    14 months

In polyandrous trios, alpha males are the more dominant figure and have higher parental investment. The beta male is typically not related to either dominant figure, but is involved to the extent that he does not lower the fitness of the alpha male. Beta males are around more often during the pre-laying period. Copulation is done before the pre-laying period with the alpha male and dominant female more often than the beta male and dominant female or the monogamous male and partner. Beta males however have a higher copulation rate 5 to 10 days before females lay. During the nesting period, both males incubate for similar lengths of time with the female. Juveniles from the previous year are welcome to stay in the area as family members or non-breeding co-workers. During the non-breeding period, beta males spend less time in close proximity to the female and alpha male, but do participate in nest building and delivering prey to female. During incubation, the beta male also participates in inter-specific and intra-group defense. Males and females of both monogamous and polyandrous trios equally share defending the nest, although females are more aggressive at nest. Monogamous pair nests experience predation more frequently than polyandrous trios. (Kimball, et al., 2003; Malan and Jenkins, 1996; Malan, et al., 2008; Malan, 1998; Malan, 2004; Malan, 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


Living near urban areas and preying and scavenging along roads give these goshawks a greater chance of being struck by vehicles. Pale chanting goshawks are not legally protected and run the risk of being shot by landowners. (Oatley, et al., 1998)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    30 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 15 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    7 years


Pale chanting goshawks are diurnal and roost in trees in arid landscapes. They are mainly a solitary species, although they also occur in small family or breeding groups during the breeding season. They engage in both solitary and social hunts (see food habits). They partner with family members while hunting when needed and rely on mates to protect each other. Territory boundaries for families are between 500 m and 30 km apart during breeding season and juveniles often end up hundreds of kilometers away from parents after two years. Breeding pairs/trios are relatively sedentary and will return to the same nesting area each year, but will not use the same nest. They often take the old nest and use the materials to create a new nest with their mates. (Malan and Jenkins, 1996; Malan, et al., 2008; Malan, 1998; Malan, 2004; Malan, 2005)

  • Range territory size
    1 to 100 km^2
  • Average territory size
    5 km^2

Home Range

Home range size vary with habitat quality and breeding strategy. The home range must include a nesting site as well as abundant prey. (Malan, et al., 2008)

Communication and Perception

The name "pale chanting goshawk" derive from the calls made by these goshawks. They create a melodious chanting call that is a loud piping kleeu-kleeu-kleeu-klu-klu-klu which accelerates and becomes more tremulous towards the end of the call. This call is generally used during the breeding season with mates. They can also have a long drawn-out and high-pitched kleeeeu at distinct intervals. Pale chanting goshawks are diurnal and makes their call mainly around dawn. (Kimball, et al., 2003; Sinclair and Ryan, 2003; Steyn, 2010)

Food Habits

Pale chanting goshawks eat mainly small vertebrates and insects. Some of the animals in their diet include four-striped grass mice (Rhabdomys pumilio), hares, Karoo bush rats (Myotomys unisulcatus), and Brant’s whistling rats (Parotomys brantsii). Rodents are often captured by using an aerial strike to the ground from a high perch. They occasionally hunt small birds in flight like guineafowl, quails, bustards and sandgrouse and may prey on small domestic chickens or eggs. When not attacking prey in flight, pale chanting goshawks attack from the ground by stalking their prey or following other predators around waiting for something to be flushed out of brush. Some common ground prey include reptiles like lizards, tortoise hatchlings, and snakes. Other ground prey include insects like harvester termites, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and sunspiders. Juveniles are more likely to catch reptiles and insects by themselves than rodents and small birds. Pale chanting goshawks also commonly scavenge carrion. Pale chanting goshawks have two different hunting strategies, social and solitary. The majority of the time they hunt alone, unless family members are needed. A solitary hunt is defined as only the focal pale chanting goshawk hunting while a social hunt involves the focal goshawk joined by family members. Juveniles are able to join in social hunts as well and often find that they are more successful with rodents in a social unit. Once prey is captured, the focal goshawk will fly off and are not pursued by family members. Mainly larger rodents are caught during social hunts, creating a larger success and energy return. (Kimball, et al., 2003; Malan and Crowe, 1996; Malan, 1998; Malan, 2004; Steyn, 2010)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods


Eggs and young are preyed on occasionally by yellow mongooses (Cynictis penicillata), caracals (Felis caracal), large-spotted genets (Genetta tigrina), African wild cats (Felis lybica), boomslangs (Dispholidus typus), martial eagles (Polemaetus bellicosus), and white-necked ravens (Corvus albicollis). Other potential nest predators include black shouldered kites (Elanus caeruleus), black crows (Corvus capensis), jackal buzzards (Buteo rufofuscus), and booted eagles (Hieraaetus pennatus). Predation generally occurs when nests are left unattended. In a polyandrous trio, there is normally always an adult watching the nest, making predation on the nest very rare. (Malan and Jenkins, 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

Pale chanting goshawks are predators in southern Africa. They prey on small mammals, birds, insects and may even consume carrion. Karoo bush rats (Myotomys unisulcatus) experience population cycles every couple years. Goshawk pairs establish nesting territories in areas with high bush rat populations. (Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr, 2000; Malan and Crowe, 1996; Malan, 2001)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pale chanting goshawks are considered scavengers in different regions and help to consume carcasses. As a bird of prey, they are keep rodent populations in balance as well as other reptiles and smaller song birds. (Sinclair and Ryan, 2003; Steyn, 2010)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Melierax canorus on humans.

Conservation Status

Status of the species Melierax metabates and Melierax poliopterus are the same as Melierax canorus. The resident and breeding range size of pale chanting goshawks is about 2,260,000 km2. Population sizes are considered vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. (Steyn, 2010)


Lindsay Stedman (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan 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


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


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

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

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


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.


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.


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).

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


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


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Herremans, M., D. Herremans-Tonnoeyr. 2000. Land use and the conservation status of raptors in Botswana. Biological Conservation, 94/1: 31-41.

Kimball, R., P. Parker, J. Bednarz. 2003. Occurrence and evolution of cooperative breeding among diurnal raptors (Accipitridae and Falconidae). The Auk, 120/3: 717-729.

Malan, G., T. Crowe. 1996. The diet and conservation of monogamous and polyandrous pale chanting goshawks in the Little Karoo, South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 26/1: 1-10.

Malan, G., A. Jenkins. 1996. Territory and nest defense in polyandrous pale chanting goshawks: do co-breeders help?. South African Journal of Zoology, 31/4: 170-176.

Malan, G. 2009. Raptor Survey and Monitoring: a field guide for African birds. Pretoria, South Africa: Briza.

Malan, G. 2001. Otomyine rodent refuge habitat: does it represent habitat quality for pale chanting-goshawk families?. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 31/1-2: 49-58.

Malan, G. 2005. Reproductive partitioning among polyandrous alpha and beta pale chanting goshawk males. South African Journal of Zoology, 40/2: 213-222.

Malan, G. 1998. Solirtary and social hunting in Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus) families: Why use both strategies?. Journal of Raptor Research, 32/3: 195-201.

Malan, G. 2004. The relative influence of prey abundance and co-breeders on the reproductive performance fo polyandrous pale chanting-goshawks. Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology, 75/1-2: 44-51.

Malan, G., M. Crowe, R. Biggs, J. Herholdt. 2008. The social system of the Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus: Monogamy v polyandry and delayed dispersal. Ibis, 139/2: 313-321.

Mendlesohn, J., A. Kemp, H. Biggs, R. Biggs, C. Brown. 1989. Wing areas, wing loadings and wing spans of 66 species of African raptors. Ostrich, 60: 35-42.

Oatley, T., H. Oschadleus, R. Navarro, L. Underhill. 1998. Review of ring recoveries of birds of prey in southern Africa. ADU, 1: 1-65.

Sinclair, I., P. Ryan. 2003. A comprehensive illustrated field guide: Birds of Africa south of the Sahara. Capetown, South Africa: Struik Publishers.

Steyn, P. 2010. The Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus is a common raptor in more arid habitats and may often be seen perched on roadside poles in the Karoo. South African Medical Journal, 100/9: 539.