[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Macheiramphus alcinus | [UK] Bat Hawk | [FR] Milan des chauves-souris | [DE] Fledermaus-Aar | [ES] Milano Murcielaguero | [NL] Vleermuiswouw | [Authority] Westermann, 1851

Bat Hawk determination

Members of the genus Macheiramphus are medium-sized kites, proportioned similarly to a large falcon with pointed wings. They have a very small, compressed and keeled beak, but an enormous gape (small bats and birds are swallowed whole). They are crepuscular, and have very large eyes. The legs and the digits are long and slender, and the talons are very sharp. They have fully feathered lores and a short pointed occipital crest. The young are like the adults. The Bat Hawk forms a distinct genus which is close to the Elanus kites. It has some resemblance in habits and appearance to Aviceda, which may be its closest relative. There is but one species, which is in tropical Africa, Madagascar, and Asia.

copyright: Keith Blomerley

The adult is brownish black all over, except for a white spot above and below the eye. The centre of the chest and throat are white, with a broad black median streak. The eyes are brilliant yellow, the cere black, the legs and feet pale bluish-grey. Immatures are more brown and more mottled than the adult, with paler colour on bases of tail feathers, and have more white on the breast.

Found in habitat varying from dense tropical forest to semi-arid bush veld.

The Bat Hawk subsists on a diet composed mainly of bats, swallows, swifts and swiftlets, supplemented occasionally with other small birds and some insects. All prey is taken on the wing at high speed. It never descends to the ground for prey, but will relentlessly pursue its quarry into buildings. It catches bats, swallows and swiftlets in flight, some other small birds and perhaps insects as well, and swallows them whole in the air. The prey is caught in the feet and swallowed whole. The bird only hunts for about half an hour each day in Africa, but longer in the East, where the prey is swiftlets rather than bats. To enable it to catch enough to survive in the short time available the prey must be plentiful and small, as it is swallowed whole on the wing. The Bat Hawk does not take large fruit bats, which are often very numerous in its range, but confines itself to small bats and birds.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 13,000,000 km2. It has a large global population estimated to be 100,000-1,000,000 individuals (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001). Global population trends have not been quantified, but there is evidence of a population increase (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001), and so the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

When the breeding season begins, there is a great deal of aerial chasing near the breeding site, with stunt flying like a lapwing, and sometimes foot-touching and rolling displays. The nuptial flights are spectacular, performed at high speed, and when coming into the nest tree the birds come in low, very fast, and sweep up on to a perch. The nest is often built in the same tree that the birds rest in through the day. Both sexes build, but the female does more than the male. Twigs are broken off dead branches in flight, and many are dropped. It is usually high up in a tree, usually built on a large lateral limb, but sometimes in the middle of the tree. It is a fair-sized structure about three feet across by one foot deep, with a broad shallow cup, sometimes unlined, unlike other birds of prey. Both in the East and in Africa it sometimes nests in busy towns. Only the female incubates, and she sits very close during the day, taking only an occasional flight. At dusk she leaves the nest and flies around, but does not always hunt for herself. Often the male feeds her on the nest or near it. The incubation period is estimated at about a month. The young fledge in about 35-40 days, and are fed by both parents. The nestling only fed during the last fifteen to twenty minutes before dark. During this time the feeding rate is rapid, once every three or four minutes, and the parents often deposit the food on the nest edge and fly off, returning shortly with more. The prey brought to the young often includes insects. During the early part of the fledging period the female remains on the nest with the young, but in the last week or ten days of the period the parents both sit on branches of the nest tree or adjacent trees. The young only remain in the vicinity of the nest for a short time after fledging. Theses birds are regular breeders, rearing one young per pair in most years.

Presumed sedentary

Range: Africa, Oriental Region : widespread in Africa, Burma to Borneo. The Bat Hawk is found in Malaysia, south-eastern New Guinea, and sub-Saharan Africa