As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m a bit of a sucker for interesting animal names. Sometimes I like a name because it’s funny, like the wobbegong or the potoroo, and sometimes it’s just because an animal’s name evokes a cool image in my head, like the black ghost knifefish or the fire salamander. Today’s animal falls into the latter category. The name pale chanting goshawk makes me think of a really creepy swamp ghost, chanting creepy spells at wandering travellers. 

Thankfully, that’s not actually what pale chanting goshawks are. They are, in fact, birds. Pale chanting goshawks belong to the family Accipitridae, which also include hawks and eagles. They can be found in southern Africa, in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Goshawks don’t like a lot of rain: their preferred habitat is in dry deserts, grasslands and scrublands. 

A pale chanting goshawk looking very regal. Image by Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite their name, pale chanting goshawks are not as pale as you might think. They are mostly light grey, with some black and barred grey and white feathers in the tail. They have dark brown eyes with a red and grey beak, and orange legs. Though they may not match my image of a pale chanting goshawk, they are quite striking birds. They are not overly large, reaching lengths of 55cm and wingspans of 110cm, with females being larger than males. 

Pale chanting goshawks spend a fair bit of time hunting from perches, and particularly favour telephone poles. Their diet consists of mainly of small animals, and chanting goshawks are not picky. They will eat mammals, lizards, insects, other birds, and even carrion. They do vary their hunting strategy, occasionally stalking prey from the ground, and even more interestingly, sometimes hunting together in groups. Another fun way pale chanting goshawks acquire food is by following honey badgers around – prey that are flushed out by the digging of honey badgers is scooped up by goshawks for a tasty snack. 

A goshawk in flight, showing its pale underbelly. Image by Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Breeding in pale goshawks occurs from June to January. The birds form pairs of a male and female bird, or ‘throuples’, with a female goshawk and two males, one alpha male and one beta. Both males mate with the female, and help defend territory, as well as incubating the eggs. Nests are built in trees or telephone poles, and are often lined with nice comfy materials like fur, dried dung, cloth, and spider silk. One to two eggs are laid, which hatch after about a month. The chicks fledge after five to seven weeks, and sometimes stick around to help with the next brood. They become fully independent around fourteen months of age. 

You’re probably wondering where the ‘chanting’ part of pale chanting goshawk comes from. They are known for their breeding calls, which are described as a ‘kleeu-kleeu-kleeu-ku-ku-ku’. If you have trouble imagining what that might sound like, here’s a link to a video of the pale chanting goshawk’s call. 

As I was writing this post, I discovered there is another bird known as the dark chanting goshawk, which is also a name that evokes some pretty cool imagery. The third bird in the genus Melierax, the Eastern chanting goshawk, is a little less exciting. But I guess ‘medium chanting goshawk’ isn’t much better. Not all animals have can have cool names.

Cover image by Flickr users Alastair Rae, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit