Especially in drought years, many species of birds still find food in towns and settlements. The green oases provide shelter, food and water. Countless feeding stations, set up by bird lovers in the cities, offer a constant supply of food. Seed-eaters and fruit-eaters can survive in the gardens of the cities. Some birds remain in the man-made habitats, others return to the wild as soon as conditions improve there.

Among the feathered visitors are also some enemies of their own kind which have made the cities their home as well. They are the small birds of prey, species such as the Little Sparrowhawk (weight: 68 to 120 grams), the Shikra (80 to 170 g) and the Gabar Goshawk (110 to 220 g), some of which feed mainly on birds. If a much frequented feeding station suddenly turns quiet, you will probably be able to see one of these birds of prey in a nearby tree.

Small birds of prey
The Little Sparrowhawk is the smallest of the birds of prey described here. It can be identified by its yellow eyes, eye ring, cere and legs. This one has captured a Red-headed Finch. 98 percent of its diet consists of birds.

These three species look similar at first glance, but there are many differences, not just in size. All three are mainly grey with a light-coloured chest or underparts and flanks. The largest of them, the Gabar Goshawk (wingspan 60 cm), has a grey chest and white and grey barring on the belly and flanks. The other two have rufous barred chests, flanks and bellies. The biggest differences are the colour of the eyes, of the cere – the waxy featherless skin in the nasal area above the beak – and of the legs. The cere of the Gabar Goshawk is red, while that of the Shikra and the Little Sparrowhawk is yellow. The Gabar Goshawk’s eyes are dark brown, those of the Shikra (wingspan 55 – 60 cm) are red and those of the Little Sparrowhawk (wingspan 40 – 45 cm) are yellow. The legs of the Little Sparrowhawk and those of the Shikra are yellow, while the legs of the Gabar Goshawk are red.

Small birds of prey
The Shikra is recognizable by its red eyes, yellow cere and yellow feet. This one has also preyed on a Red-headed Finch. The Finch was ringed but unfortunately the ring could not be found. Ringed legs of birds have already been found under trees, making it possible to identify the dead bird but usually not the bird of prey that killed it. Birds make up 22 percent of the Shikra’s prey.

The juveniles of all three species are brownish-grey with brownish spots or stripes lengthwise and/or across their flanks, belly and chest. All of them have yellow eyes. The Gabar Goshawk has the widest distribution. Except for the southern Namib Desert it occurs all over Namibia. The Shikra is found all over the north and in the central parts of the country, excluding the west. The Little Sparrowhawk, on the other hand, avoids the arid areas and inhabits the central north right down to Windhoek but in particular the Kavango and Zambezi regions.

Some birds of these three species have settled permanently in Windhoek and routinely nest in the city because food is readily available. Especially Red-headed Finches seem to be an easy and regular prey. The three species of birds of prey breed from September until the end of November, but their main breeding season is October.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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