Franke-Bryson U. 2019. Greedy southern pale chanting goshawk Melierax canorus. Biodiversity Observations 10.8:1-7
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Southern pale chanting goshawks (Melierax canorus) never miss an opportunity for feeding on any creature living or dead. Here three birds are recorded with the beak or crop still full, and hunting techniques and diet are described.
Southern pale chanting goshawk hunting skills encompass a great variety of techniques. They hunt alone or in groups. They mainly hunt smaller prey, but are capable of killing animals heavier than themselves. The local available biodiversity determines the composition of the diet, which is generally highly diverse. Among recorded prey items are mammals (mainly rodents), birds (a variety of species ranging from larks, swallows, weavers to the size of francolin, korhaan, sandgrouse, owls and guineafowl) (Malan and Crowe 1996). Predation records have included a stunned rock kestrel or sometimes chickens (Steyn 1982). Southern pale chanting goshawks have also been recorded predating reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates (sunspiders, harvester termites, grasshoppers, beetles and other insects). Southern pale chanting goshawks also feed on carrion of any kind, from hares to owls (Stein 1982; Biggs et al. 1984; Malan and Crowe 1996; Allan 2005). In one incident they might have detected a carcass of an Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) by observing Cape crows (Corvus capensis) gathering nearby (Ryan et al. 2012).
Steyn (1982) reports lizards as the most common prey in Kenya, while a study in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, found that more than 90% of the diet consisted of three species of rodents: Karoo bush rat (Myotomys (Otomys) unisulcatus), Brants’ whistling rat (Parotomys brantsii) and four-striped grass mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) (Malan and Crowe 1996). Malan (2017) found leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) hatchlings being preyed upon, but only in their first two weeks while their carapaces, the outer shells, were still soft. In the arid savannah near Usakos, Namibia, (22° 24’S; 15° 25’E), I once saw two juvenile southern pale chanting goshawks, in the presence of one adult, dropping down clumsily on three young bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) who made it in time to their distant underground den, while the adult fox was defensively snapping into the air towards the attacking birds. It is unclear whether this behaviour was curiosity, hunting instinct, honing the hunting skills of the juveniles, or a serious attempt at predation in the harsh environment.
Southern pale chanting goshawks perch high up to swoop down on prey and may pursue their prey swiftly on foot, if needed. They run so “blisteringly fast with these long legs” that “they easily can catch a sunspider” (Malan 2017). In strong wind, hunting may be restricted to the ground (pers. obs.). Although most prey are caught on the ground, birds can also be predated in flight, as Steyn (1982) observed during predation on a crowned plover (Vanellus coronatus) and a harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei).
Southern pale chanting goshawks are also known to take advantage of the hunting skills of other animals, and follow mammals (mainly honey badger, Melivora capensis, and slender mongoose, Galerella sanguinea), other birds, and possibly rock monitors (Varanus albigularis), who all could flush prey by their presence, by digging and exploring holes. Pale chanting goshawks have been sighted hoping for secondary prey from a Cape cobra (Naja nivea) (Siebert and Siebert 2003; Vanderwalt 2016), and kleptoparasitising a booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) (in Malan 1998, p. 199) and a pipit from a kestrel (Steyn 1982).
We have caught two different southern pale chanting goshawk individuals, which had swallowed lizards directly before our observations – the tail of a lizard was still sticking out of the throat when each came swooping down to its next prey in the form of a mouse in a trap (Figures 1 and 2). Bird ringers might have experienced that a southern pale chanting goshawk will repeatedly try to take the bait whenever an attempt (or more) of catching the bird with a bal-chatri trap has failed. A bal-chatri is a cage containing a live rodent used to attract the attention of the raptor, and with nooses or fishline on top of the cage to entangle the raptor’s feet when landing and trying to catch the bait (de Beer 2001).
A further adult female was trapped and ringed coming straight from a fresh helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) kill. All flesh had been consumed. The southern pale chanting goshawk came to the bal-chatri already with a huge crop (Figures 3 and 4). As the site was near a gravel road, it remains unclear whether the southern pale chanting goshawk had killed the guineafowl or whether it had been hit by a car.
I am grateful to Susan Mvungi from the Niven Library, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, for supporting me with access to literature, and to Dane Paijmans for revising the text.
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