Moult, pied plumage and relationships within the genus of the Black Sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus

  • Michel Louette Royal Museum for Central Africa, B-3080 Tervuren, Belgium


The pied plumage of the adult Black Sparrowhawk is rather exceptional in the genus Accipiter and it could be explained by functionality or by phylogenetic relationships. The moult pattern of museum specimens is presented, supplementing information from captive birds. The post-juvenile moulting sequence is similar to that of the Northern Goshawk. The moult of primaries starts at, or just after, the beginning of body moult; moult of the secondaries also starts early and progresses from three consecutive foci, and tail moult starts early but is less predictable. A few body feathers and tail feathers may remain in place until the second moult. The pied flank feathers appear at an early stage. Some adult specimens are in arrested annual moult. Two with definite serially-descendant moult were discovered; this is related to the fact that the species is known to be double-brooded. Serially descendant moult was not known in this species and is rarely mentioned in the genus. Possible functions of the pied plumage are discussed: crypsis, mimicry, hunting strategy, and sexual attraction. Its taxanomic status is obscure. Although the streaked juvenile plumage of the Black Sparrowhawk is similar to those of the Northern Goshawk A. gentilis, Meyer's Goshawk A. meyerianus and Henst's Goshawk A. hentsi, adult and juvenile plumages are variable within the genus, and thus are not a reliable indicator of taxanomic relationships.

Ostrich 2006, 77(1&2): 73–83

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-947X
print ISSN: 0030-6525