Tiny hawk

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Tiny hawk
Accipiter superciliosus.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Microspizias
M. superciliosus
Binomial name
Microspizias superciliosus
(Linnaeus, 1766)
  • M. s. fontainieri - Bonaparte, 1853
  • M. s. superciliosus - (Linnaeus, 1766)
Accipiter superciliosus map.svg

Falco superciliosus Linnaeus, 1766
Accipiter superciliosus
Falco tinus Latham, 1790
Nisus tinus (Latham, 1790)
Hieraspiza tinus Kaup, 1847
Hieraspiza superciliosa (Linnaeus, 1766) [proposed by Olsen, 2006; see text]

The tiny hawk (Microspizias superciliosus) is a small diurnal bird of prey found in or near forests, primarily humid, throughout much of the Neotropics. It is primarily a bird-eater, and is known to prey on hummingbirds.


The tiny hawk was formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1766 in the twelfth edition of his Systema Naturae under the binomial name Falco superciliosus. Linnaeus specified the locality as Suriname.[3][4] The specific epithet superciliosus is Latin meaning "eye-browed".[5]

There are two subspecies separated by the northern Andes. The two differ most significantly in relative tail length; differences in size and color are small, and can be hard to distinguish.[6]

  • A. s. superciliosus is found east of the Andes in South America. Slightly the larger of the two subspecies, it is paler and has diffuse, grayish barring on the underparts.
  • A. s. fontanieri is found from Nicaragua down to western Ecuador. It is somewhat smaller and darker than the nominate A. s. superciliosus, with a shorter tail and sharper, blacker barring below.

The tiny hawk and its sister species, the upland-dwelling semicollared hawk ("A." collaris), form a superspecies.

Tiny hawk is the only species of Accipiter yet studied which has a large procoracoid foramen. It also differs from the typical sparrowhawks in other respects of its anatomy and in its DNA sequence. Consequently, its old name Hieraspiza superciliosa may be more appropriate.[7] In 2021, a phylogenetic study found it and the semicollared hawk to form a distinct group from the rest of Accipiter, that is sister to Kaupifalco. For this reason, both were reclassified into the new genus Microspizias.[8][9]


The tiny hawk is aptly named; males measure a mere 20 cm (7.9 in), about the size of a starling, though females are slightly larger at 26.5 cm (10.5 in). It is one of the smallest true raptors in the world and is one of the smallest Accipiter species, though the little sparrowhawk of Africa is of similar or even smaller size. The birds range in weight from 75 to 120 g (2.6 to 4.2 oz) As with most raptors, there is considerable sexual dimorphism in size, with females measuring up to 25% longer and as much as 60% heavier than males.

The adult male tiny hawk is dark slaty gray above, with a mottled gray face, a paler gray supercilium, and a blackish crown and nape. The white underparts are covered with fine gray barring, except on the unmarked throat. The longish tail is dark with three paler gray bands. Adult females are similar, but browner above with buffier underparts and browner barring below. The cere and legs of all ages are yellow, and the bill, which is relatively heavy, is gray. Adults have red or red-brown irises, while those of immatures often are yellowish. Unlike most accipiters, the tiny hawk's tail is quite short; it is squared or notched at the tip. Its wings are medium-length, with pointed tips, and its legs and toes are long.

Immature birds come in two color morphs: the brown and the rufous. Brown morph birds are dark sooty-brown above, finely barred with black, and white below, heavily barred with cinnamon. Rufous morph immatures are more chestnut above, and barred with rufous (rather than cinnamon) on the underparts. They also have duskier heads and brighter rufous tails than do brown morph birds.

The call of the tiny hawk is a shrill, high-pitched, somewhat quavery series of 20–30 notes of uneven pitch. After an initial few accelerating notes, the call settles into a steady rhythm, variously transcribed as caucau-ca-ca-ca, keer-keer-keer or kree-ree-ree-ree.[10][11]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Tiny hawks are patchily distributed from eastern Nicaragua down to western Ecuador, northern Bolivia, northern Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil. They frequent humid and wet lowland forests (including second growth) and forested foothills from sea level to about 1800 meters (5900 ft), though most records come from elevations below 1000 m (3300 ft). The species is believed to be fairly sedentary.[6]


On clear mornings (and occasionally in late afternoons), the tiny hawk will sometimes sun itself on a high open branch.[10] Occasionally, pairs will sun together.[6] Otherwise, this is a secretive species and easily overlooked. It generally hunts from a perch, located anywhere from the undergrowth to the canopy, though most often in the middle story. When hunting in low growth, it often flashes from one perch to another in rapid succession. It is a fast flier; instead of the typical flap-flap-glide cadence of the accipiters, it makes a few quick flaps and then briefly closes its wings before flapping again.[11] Tiny hawks occasionally soar above the forest canopy.

Food and feeding[edit]

Like all accipiters, the tiny hawk feeds primarily on birds. It hunts hummingbirds and small passerines, typically darting out from a place of concealment to snatch them as they pass by, but also ambushing them when the smaller birds are perched. There is some evidence that it learns the regular perches of some hummingbirds and hunts for them there.[10] However, the species cannot be considered a specialist predator of hummingbirds.[12] Some individuals also hunt rodents and bats.[6][12]


Little is known about the tiny hawk's breeding biology. Their breeding season may vary depending on their location; from Panama to Colombia, it apparently runs between February and June, while in the southern part of the range, it may range from October to January.[6] They are known to build stick nests, at least sometimes in the canopy of tall trees. In Venezuela, there is a record of a pair nesting in an old black-collared hawk nest.[11] Females lay one to three bluish-white eggs, faintly streaked and spotted with brown. Incubation and fledging periods are not known.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2020). "Accipiter superciliosus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T22695565A168764980. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22695565A168764980.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Gill F, D Donsker & P Rasmussen (Eds). 2020. IOC World Bird List (v10.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.10.2.
  3. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1766). Systema naturae : per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1, Part 1 (12th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 128.
  4. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 336.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 374. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ a b c d e Ferguson-Lees & Christie 1999, pp. 557–9
  7. ^ Olson 2006
  8. ^ "Hoatzin, New World vultures, Secretarybird, raptors – IOC World Bird List". Retrieved 2022-08-24.
  9. ^ Sangster, George; Kirwan, Guy M.; Fuchs, Jérôme; Dickinson, Edward C.; Elliott, Andy; Gregory, Steven M. S. (2021-02-08). "A new genus for the tiny hawk Accipiter superciliosus and semicollared hawk A. collaris (Aves: Accipitridae), with comments on the generic name for the crested goshawk A. trivirgatus and Sulawesi goshawk A. griseiceps". Vertebrate Zoology. 71: 419–424. doi:10.3897/vz.71.e67501. ISSN 2625-8498.
  10. ^ a b c Stiles, F. Gary; Skutch, Alexander F. (1989). A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-8014-9600-4.
  11. ^ a b c Hilty 2003, p. 233
  12. ^ a b Berryman, Alex J.; Kirwan, Guy M. (2021). "Is the Tiny Hawk (Accipiter superciliosus) really a specialized predator on hummingbirds? Using citizen science data to elucidate dietary preferences of a little-known neotropical raptor". Journal of Raptor Research. 55 (2): 276-280. doi:10.3356/0892-1016-55.2.276.


  • Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (1999). Raptors of the World. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-8026-1.
  • Hilty, Steven L. (2003), Birds of Venezuela, London: Christopher Helm, ISBN 0-7136-6418-5
  • Olson, Storrs L. (2006). "Reflections on the systematics of Accipiter and the genus for Falco superciliosus Linnaeus" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 126 (1): 69–70. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-29. For further information on the procoracoid foramen in the birds of prey, see also Olson (1987) "Variation in the procoracoid foramen in the Accipitridae" Riv. Ital. Orn. 57(3-4):161-164.[1] "The typical and presumably primitive condition in the Accipitridae is to have the procoracoid process with a distinct foramen for the supracoracoideus nerve piercing the bone."

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