close quarters
African Birdlife|March/April 2021
Accipiters and Cape Buzzards breeding on the Cape Peninsula
MARGARET MACIVER

Rob Little’s article ‘Space In-vaders’ (July/August 2020 issue) detailed the tussle among three Accipiter species (Black and Rufousbreasted sparrowhawks and African Goshawk) nesting on the Cape Peninsula. Rob’s account described what I too was witnessing in the remnant of a pine plantation in Tokai, outside Cape Town. Before the majority of the plantation was felled, each species had more than one nest and they all had sufficient space to avoid conflict.

Now that only 25.5 hectares of the plantation remains, a space race between the species is evident. Fortunately, since Black Sparrowhawks in the Western Cape breed in winter, they are usually teaching their offspring to hunt by the time the Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks and African Goshawks begin their summer breeding season.

From time to time I had seen a pair of Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks in a stand of pines, but once that was felled I had no idea if they had moved into the only section remaining or had deserted the area. However, in September 2018, while checking on juvenile Black Sparrowhawks, I heard a pair of Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks calling within the pine trees. Following their softcalls, I found them building a nest near the centre of the plantation. They raised a brood of three chicks that fledged in late summer and they again nested nearby during the summer of 2019. Also in 2018, while strolling on the eastern edge of the plantation, I saw a female African Goshawk perched on a fairly low branch. Before I could lift my camera, a male flew in from behind me, landed on the female and copulated with her. He then disappeared just as quickly out of the pine tree area, but to my delight soon returned carrying a stick that he took up to a nest, high in a pine tree.

I had no idea that African Goshawks were breeding in the plantation, but this is not surprising since they are secretive and silent while constructing their nest and seem to work on it mostly in the late afternoon. But once I knew where their nest was, I was able to monitor the breeding process and eventually enjoyed observing the two juveniles, which were far more confiding than their parents. So all three species successfully raised broods in 2018.

In 2019 the adult Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks and African Gos-hawks returned. The goshawks used the same large nest that they had occupied previously and they soon started repair work. The Rufousbreasteds built a new nest, but it was farther into the plantation and a good distance from the goshawks’ nest. Again, both clutches were successful and both species moved off in autumn. Each year the Black Sparrowhawk nesting attempts had also been successful. On most days I could hear the juveniles whingeing for yet more food and it was clear that they hadn’t begun to hunt for themselves.

So from 2017 to 2019 we had the three species breeding successfully in the plantation. I would wander away from the Black Sparrowhawk juveniles to watch the antics of the Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk and the African Goshawk chicks and all seemed peaceful.

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