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A widespread and relatively common raptor of sub-Saharan Africa, Dark Chanting-Goshawk is found in a variety of woodland habitats, including savanna, old olive groves, palm and orange groves, and thornbush. Their plumage is largely gray, with very fine gray and white barring on the belly and undertail coverts, accented with reddish legs and cere. Birds typically avoid drier habitats that are typically occupied by other members of the genus occur. The common name of the genus, chanting-goshawk, comes from their advertisement call, which is described as a melodious whistle. A generalist hunter, birds feed on a wide variety of prey items, including lizards, snakes, rodents, birds up to the size of Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris), and insects. While across its range Dark Chanting-Goshawk is not considered to face any immediate conservation threats, it is declining in parts of its range, mostly as a result of habitat loss, with the isolated population in Morocco thought to be on the verge of extinction.
42–50 cm (1); male 646–695 g (478–700 g in subspecies mechowi) (2), female 841–852 g (650–815 g in subspecies mechowi) (2); wingspan 86–104 cm (1). Generally darker gray on upperparts than Pale Chanting-Goshawk (M. canorus) and slightly larger and seemingly longer-legged Eastern Chanting-Goshawk (M. poliopterus); plain gray upperwing-coverts; rump barred grey and white; redder cere; southern African populations of M. poliopterus have white secondaries absent in both eastern African birds and the present species (3). Similar at all ages to much smaller Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar), but only outer tail barred and latter has pure white uppertail-coverts. Larger and longer-legged than Lizard Buzzard (Kaupifalco monogrammicus) and lacks white central tailband of latter. Male usually has paler wing-coverts than female. Bare parts: bill base and cere red, irides red-brown and legs red (2). Juvenile dull brown above, with brown/gray streaking on rump, wing-coverts fringed paler, gray cere, dull yellow legs and pale yellow eye . Juvenile M. poliopterus is very similar and can only safely be separated by rump coloration: white with faint, rust-coloured V-shaped markings in poliopterus (appearing white at distance), but broadly gray-streaked in present species (appearing uniformly gray at distance) (3).
Subspecies are separated on size, intensity of gray, and extent of white markings. Subspecies neumanni often treated as synonym of nominate; ignoscens likewise very similar to nominate, but possibly smaller (4). Five subspecies recognized.
Melierax metabates theresae
M. m. theresae R. Meinertzhagen, 1939
Generally darker and somewhat smaller than nominate (e.g. wing of male 288–297 mm, versus 295–321 mm) (2).
Melierax metabates neumanni
M. m. neumanni E. Hartert, 1914
Mali east to northern Sudan.
Wings are more vermiculated than nominate, but is otherwise very similar and has been thought doubtful (2).
Melierax metabates ignoscens
M. m. ignoscens Friedmann, 1928
Southwestern Arabian Peninsula.
Subspecies status is sometimes doubted; it is within color range of nominate, but has only slightly speckled secondaries and probably smaller (wing 278–305 mm) (1).
Melierax metabates metabates
M. m. metabates von Heuglin, 1861
Senegambia east to Eritrea and Ethiopia, south to northeastern DRCongo and northern Tanzania.
Melierax metabates mechowi
M. m. mechowi Cabanis, 1882
Angola east to southern Tanzania, south to northern Namibia and northeastern South Africa.
Similar to nominate, but has secondaries and greater wing-coverts plain gray, as well as darker red legs and cere; wing of male 295–323 mm (2).
Broadly distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, but is absent from some of the driest regions as well as the wettest, most heavily forested regions. Found from Senegal and Gambia is West Africa east Ethiopia and Eritrea. They continue south through Uganda and western Kenya, Tanzania, to northeastern South Africa. In the southern portion of the range, they continue west to northern Namibia and Angola. Isolated populations are found on the southwestern Arabian Peninsula and in southwestern Morocco.
Moist broadleaved woodlands and well-wooded savanna, barely overlapping with drier habitats of congeners, although around L Chad, where no other Melierax occurs, this species and Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar) appear to segregate to some extent by habitat, with the latter species hunting in wetter areas over floodplains (5). In Morocco, found almost exclusively in Argan woodland (Argania spinosa), but also old olive groves, thornbush, palm and orange groves (6). Recorded to 1,900 m in Arabia (7) and to 3,000 m in mainland Africa (1).
Resident and sedentary in most areas; some movement south in dry season in western Africa, and into northeastern Zaire in November–April. Two records from Somalia subsequently reidentified as Pale Chanting Goshawk (M. canorus) (8), while claimed occurrence in central Syria in winter 1995/96 appears extremely unlikely (9). However, no doubt is attached to either of the two records in Israel, in Apr 1979 (10) and Apr 2014 (11, 12). Unclear if provenance of mid-19th century specimens labelled as being from Egypt is correct (13) and, if so, if these specimens pertain to vagrants or reflect wider former range. Recently claimed on Fuerteventura (Canary Is) in Jul 2012 (14). Recorded as vagrant to mainland Spain, but record now in doubt, though Moroccan population known to disperse mainly to norther and south, e.g. to Tangier Peninsula, although one record outside of usual range (at Cap Blanc) is thought to have possibly been of nominate metabates (6). Three records from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates perhaps suggest immature dispersal (7).
Diet and Foraging
Mainly small vertebrates, especially lizards, small snakes , and birds, up to size of Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris), francolins, and adult Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus flavirostris) (2), together with rodents, frogs, some insects (e.g., termite alates , beetles, locusts , grasshoppers ), and carrion. Mammals up to size of dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula) taken (1). Observed unsuccessfully attacking African sheath-tailed bats (Coleura afra) departing their roost in Tanzania (15). Hunts mainly from a perch , gliding down to catch prey, even pursuing it on foot like miniature Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius). Often attends bush fires (16). Sometimes rapacious and makes fast sorties and chases through woodland, taking prey in flight. Occasionally follows honeybadgers (Mellivora capensis) or ground hornbills (Bucorvus) for prey they disturb.
Sounds and Vocal Behavior
Chanting-Goshawks (genus Melierax) received their common name for their melodious advertisement call. Contrary to what one may expect however, the Dark Chanting-Goshawk is not at all a vocal bird, and its loud Chanting call is only heard briefly during the breeding period.
Little information, and available literature typically refers to closely related Eastern Chanting-Goshawk (M. poliopterus). Young outside the nest utter a loud series of piping whistles when begging for food (Food call, 17). Such series consists of some 12‒24 overslurred notes gradually rising in pitch and amplitude (initial maximum frequency around 1.7 kHz rising towards 2.3 kHz, note duration 0.07-0.11 s). Also occasionally heard uttering Chanting Call while still dependent (17).
Chanting Call. A loud rather melodious whistle followed by a short whistle (or none at all). Such phrase is repeated in long series wheee-wow.... wheee-wow.... This is the commonest vocalization. Phrases with more notes following the initial long whistle have also been recorded, but there is a potential pitfall with similar vocalizations of Lizard Buzzard (Kaupifalco monogrammicus), and thus requires confirmation.
Klee-klee-klee. A short cuckoo-like phrase of three notes klee-klee-klee or klee-klee-klew, typically repeated in long series.
Scream. A long drawn-out scream wheeeeeuw, given singly at long intervals (note duration about 1.6 s).
Kek. A single short nasal kek, repeated in loose series (18).
Food call. Uttered by adults, this vocalization is very similar to the Food call of juvenile birds (see above) .
Has not been studied, and the few available recordings do not allow assessment at present. Chanting call is similar to M. poliopterus, but available recordings suggest the latter has typically two or more short notes following the initial long whistle (versus none or just one).
Generally silent outside the breeding season (2). At the onset of the breeding season, (presumed) male delivers the Chanting call at intervals, often for hours. Both sexes call (apart or together, from perch or in flight) throughout the breeding cycle, but most frequent during the nest-building phase and before. Food call is uttered when prey is given by the male to the female, and is confined to the period of incubation and the first few weeks after hatching (17). Once juveniles have fledged, Food call of juveniles is mainly heard. In Ghana, most vocal from April-May, but Chanting call has also been heard in January, March, and also September, when juvenile call was also heard (19).
Daily Pattern of Vocalizing
Little information. Mainly vocal in the morning, but vocal activity primarily determined by activities around the nest. Chanting call can be heard at dawn, in early morning, and at dusk (19).
Places of Vocalizing
Chanting call is mainly given from a perch at the top of a tree. Also calls on or near the ground (17), and (rarely) in flight. Equally vocal on or near the nest.
Little information. Chanting call and Food call are uttered by both sexes.
Social Content and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations
Chanting call is used in territorial advertisement, and presumably also plays a role in pair-bonding. Klee-klee-klee call is said to be an alarm call, used in threatening or mobbing situations (17). Scream possibly used against intruders or predators. Kek call has been recorded by a bird in undulating display flight (18). With the exception of the Chanting and Food call, function of other vocalizations uncertain and requires further study.
Laying March–May in northwestern (6), western, and northeastern Africa; mainly February–April (perhaps also October) in southwestern Arabia (7); June–July in East Africa; August–November (mainly September–October) (20) in southern Africa. Vocal, chanting from treetop, before nesting. Aerial displays include sky-dancing and much calling (1). Both sexes build the platform of sticks (35–60 cm across) (1), often in a low fork (4.5–9 m above ground , once 13 m) (16) in dense woodland, the nest lined with mud, grass, and dry debris (rags, skin, stones) (2), including small bird nests (e.g. sunbirds and penduline tits) (20), and often covered in spiders’ webs. May reuse the same nest or precisely the same site in successive seasons (20). Clutch 1–2 bluish-white (21) eggs laid at three-day intervals, 52.6 mm × 41.3 mm (nominate) (21) or 48·8–59·3 mm × 38–45·5 mm (subspecies mechowi) (2), mass ca. 48–52 g (2); incubation at least 30 days, probably ca. 36–38 days (1), by female alone (21); chick has grayish-white down with long filaments on head and back; fledging about 36–50 days and usually only one survives (2); juvenile very noisy in nest area for up to five months.
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Widespread and common, especially in central Africa, where only recently (mid 1990s) added to Congo-Brazzaville list (22). Apparently very rare in Djibouti (23). Some 400 pairs estimated in Transvaal, South Africa, and 2,500 pairs in southwestern Arabia (of which ca. 70% in Yemen) (7). Roadside counts in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in 1969–1973 and again in 2003–2004 revealed that outside protected areas numbers had declined from 3.6 (± 0.5) birds per 100 km to 1.5 (± 0.3) birds, while in reserves numbers also decreased from 3.5 (± 0.9) to 2.7 (± 0.6) birds per 100 km (24), equating to losses of 26–67% in different parts of West Africa (25), and species seems very rare in southern Mauritania and northern Mali, at least in December-January, based on similar roadside surveys (26). Vulnerable to cutting of woodland, and even arid habitats have become even more impoverished due to overgrazing (27), especially small isolated populations in Morocco and Arabian Peninsula; the latter population has perhaps declined, given apparent slight range contraction over past century (7), while that in Morocco (subspecies theresae) is now restricted to Souss Valley and adjacent Anti-Atlas foothills (28), is considered to be Critically Endangered (just a few dozen pairs in 1980s) (28) and is now probably on verge of extinction (6) due to continued removal and degradation of Argan woodland (28). Not known to be affected by pesticides.