Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus)

Cover image of Pale Chanting Goshawk by Ryan Tippett – Carnarvon district, Northern Cape – BirdPix No. 60801


The Pale Chanting Goshawk is a fairly large and conspicuous all-grey raptor.

Pale Chanting Goshawk identification
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus) – Okomuparara, Namibia
Photo by Anthony Paton

The overall colouration is ash grey. The underparts, are whitish with fine grey barring while the upperparts are grey and unmarked. Bare skin, including the legs, cere and gape is bright pinkish-red to orange-red, and quite eye-catching. The legs are un-feathered and relatively long

In flight the Pale Chanting Goshawk shows black wing tips and a white rump. The underwings are light grey and the secondaries are pale and finely barred. There is a pale wing panel on the upper wing which is often visible when perched.

Pale Chanting Goshawk identification in flight
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus) 
Namaqualand National Park, Northern Cape
Photo by Vaughan Jessnitz

The sexes are alike in plumage but they differ in size, the females being noticeably larger than males.

The juveniles are brown above with paler buff-tipped feathers. The head is grey-brown with darker brown streaks. Under parts are blotched and barred in brown and buff. Like the adults, juveniles have a white rump which is most obvious in flight. The legs and bare skin are orangish becoming brighter and redder with age.

The Pale Chanting Goshawk is most likely to be mistaken for the Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates. They tend to prefer different habitats but their ranges do overlap in the northern parts of the Limpopo province, in eastern and northern Botswana and northern Namibia. The Pale Chanting Goshawk is slightly larger and has paler grey upperparts. The two are best told apart in flight. The Pale Chanting Goshawk has a white rump and a pale panel or window in the upper wing, whereas, the Dark Chanting Goshawk has a grey rump and dark wing panel. Juveniles are harder to tell apart but those of the Pale Chanting Goshawk are a little paler with a white rump and Dark Chanting Goshawk juveniles show a barred or mottled rump.

Young Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorusJuvenile
Lamberts Bay, Western Cape
Photo by Kyle Finn


The Pale Chanting Goshawk is a common species across its distribution. It is Near-endemic to Southern Africa, its range only reaching beyond Southern Africa into south-western Angola.

It is restricted to the western and central regions of Southern Africa, mainly Namibia, Botswana and western South Africa. Its range extends marginally to western Zimbabwe and north-eastern South Africa, especially along the Limpopo Valley.

SABAP2 distributiom map for Pale Chanting Goshawk
SABAP2 distribution map for Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus) – July 2023. Details for map interpretation can be found here.


Habitat for Melierax canorus
Habitat – Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

Pale Chanting Goshawks occur in arid and semi-arid areas, especially the Karoo and Kalahari vegetation types. It is present in parts of the Namib Desert and also inhabits drier woodland and grasslands. It is typically a bird of open scrub and wooded drainage lines. They prefer flat terrain and require areas of open ground with places to perch.

Habitat for Pale Chanting
Habitat – Near Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape
Photo by Les Underhill


Pale Chanting Goshawks are normally found singly or in pairs, and occasionally in family groups of five or more birds. They are not easily overlooked owing to their habit of perching prominently in the open on trees, bushes, telephone poles, fences and so on. Roadside telephone poles are favoured perches because they are often the tallest vantage points in their habitat and provide easy opportunities for scavenging at road-kills.

Melierax canorus on the ground
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus)
Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape
Photo by Desire Darling

Pale Chanting Goshawks spend the vast majority of their time perched. Research has shown that they may spend as much as 75 to 89% of their time sitting. They frequently soar at midday.

Most hunting is done from a perch and they are known to change perch sites frequently. Sometimes forages on foot and may even run after insects and rodents. It has a broad diet and feeds on invertebrates (mainly insects and arachnids), reptiles including snakes, birds up to the size of korhaans and mammals up to the size of hares. They are fond of carrion and regularly feed on road kills. They can sometimes be observed following Honey Badgers and the Yellow Mongoose in the hope of snatching disturbed rodents and insects.

Drinks water only on very hot days.

Melierax canorus
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Photo by Phillip Nieuwoudt

Breeding takes place mainly during spring and Summer (September to December) when food is most abundant. They may not breed at all during drought periods.

The nest is is a modest stick platform up to 40cm in diameter and is built by both sexes. The bowl of the nest is lined with an odd assortment of items that may include hair, dung, soil clods, bits of animal skin, ostrich feathers, grass, small bird nests and spider webs. They often use man-made items such as string, rope, old rags and bits of plastic when nesting close to roads or human habitation. Nests are most frequently placed in thorn trees but they may also nest on telephone poles in treeless regions.

Females lay one or two plain white to greenish-white eggs per clutch. Incubation duties are performed mostly by the female and the incubation period lasts for around 35 days. The young are fed mostly by the female although the male does most of the hunting at this time.

The pair are active in defence of the nest area and males in particular are quite focused on this during the breeding period. They defend the nest area from other raptors, crows, herons, mongooses and other mammalian predators. They will harass and dive at intruders and sometimes even make contact by striking with the feet.

Two Pale Chanting Goshawks
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus)
Near Bloemfontein, Free State
Photo by Dawie De Swardt

Young birds remain in the parental territory for up to two years but they are not tolerated at or near the nest during subsequent breeding efforts.

Further Resources

This species text is adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Andrew Keys, Anthony Paton, Dawie De Swardt, Desire Darling, Kyle Finn, Les Underhill, Phillip Nieuwoudt and Vaughan Jessnitz is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Bleeksingvalk (Afrikaans); Zanghavik (Dutch); Autour chanteur (French); Weißbürzel-Singhabicht, Heller Grauflügelhabicht (German); Açor-cantor-pálido (Portuguese).

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at

List of bird species in this format is available here.

Bird identificationbirding

Melierax canorus in flight
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus)
Borakalalo National Park, North West
Photo by Andrew Keys
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!