Posted on the 10th April 2013

(I presented a mini identification course on the raptors of the Western Cape Province at BirdLife Overberg's monthly meeting in April. The course was well attended and several participants requested that we make the information available on the website. It is impossible to load all of the information as more than 150 images were used during the course. I therefore only load the bullet points together with a few images as illustration. - Anton)

THE OLD RULES STILL APPLY. The following sequence of steps need to be considered when it is attempted to identify any bird:

• What is the bird’s relative size?

• What is the shape and colour of the bill?

• What is the length and colour of the legs?

• What colour and plumage characteristics strike you?

• Where does it occur?

• What is it doing?


Large raptors with long, fairly broad wings, deeply slotted primaries (“fingertips”) & fully feathered legs . Females mostly larger than males . Colouration of males and females mostly similar (no sexual dimorphism), although some species have colour morphs . Most need a number of years to mature . Larger species breed in winter . Aquila eagles have very long hind claws for piercing the vertebrae & skulls of prey.

These two species are potentially confusing: Martial Eagle/ Breëkoparend : Very big , small crest , fully feathered legs , spots on underparts and dark underwing .  Black-chested Snake-Eagle/ Swartborsslangarend : Smaller , no crest, rounder head , bare legs , pure white underparts and pale underwing.

Martial Eagle. Image: Carin Malan


Black-chested Snake-Eagle











EAGLE FLIGHT PATTERNS: Wings long & broad with obvious 'fingers' at the tip for soaring flight. Wings appear to be 'rounded' at the back . Tail shortish to medium in length, often appears rounded .

Exception 1: Bateleur: In flight the wings are long & tapering . Tail very short – the legs extend beyond the tail . Female has larger white area on the underwing

Exception 2: Wahlberg's Eagle: Soars regularly, often at great hight . Flight pattern looks like 2 crossed planks as the leading & trailing edges of the wing are nearly parallel & the long square tail is usually held closed

Verreaux's Eagle illustrated











Fairly small, compact raptors . Pale eyes set in large square head . NB: Bare lower legs. Sexes alike, with little size dimorphism . Breeds mostly in winter . Incubation & brooding of chicks by female & fed by male . Diet mostly snakes, also lizards, small mammals and birds.   SNAKE-EAGLE FLIGHT PATTERNS: Large, round head with large yellow eyes . Bare legs . Wings long & broad with fingers for soaring flight . Medium length tail


Medium sized raptors characterised by long, angled wings and long fairly slender tails. Flight loose & buoyant & birds often quarter low down over vegetation to surprise prey. Wings often held in a “shallow V” above body . Female incubates & brood young chicks & males feed them at nest . African Marsh & Black Harrier near-endemic & resident . The others are summer migrants & not often seen . Black Harrier in trouble due to renosterveld destruction

HARRIER FLIGHT PATTERNS: Long narrow wings often in shallow “V” . Long legs, often dangling . Long tail . Owl-like facial disk.

Immature Black Harrier illustrated


Jackal Buzzard illustrated. Image: Carin Malan







Medium-sized hawks with fairly broad wings & rounded tails . Young incubated & brooded by female & fed by male . Jackal & Forest Buzzards are resident, with the latter a partial migrant . Steppe Buzzards & European Honey-buzzard being non-breeding migrants . Feed mainly in small vertabrates & some migrants eat invertebrates . Still-hunts from perch, although some could run after prey on the ground

BUZZARD FLIGHT PATTERNS: Head smallish & rounded. Wings shorter & broad – fingers . Tail shortish, often rounded . Lower legs bare .


Small to medium-sized with long, pointed wings & fairly long tails - adaptation to chase after aerial prey . Short neck & fused vertebrae for rigidity at speed . Flight normally fast & direct, some will hover . Size dimorphism marked in bird-eating species, the female being bigger . Moustachial streaks in both juveniles & adults . Colour dimorphism only in Red-footed and Amur Falcons . They do not build own nests - rely on existing raptor nests .

These two species are potentially confusing: Peregrine Falcon/ Swerfvalk : Dark grey head , broad “sideburn” , smaller & more compact , mostly white breast & finely barred belly and flight dashing & direct .  Lanner Falcon/ Edelvalk : Lanner’s head is tanner , thinner “sideburn” , larger , plain pinkish-cream underparts and often soars with rounded wings

Peregrine Falcon


 Lanner Falcon









FALCON FLIGHT PATTERNS: Pug-faced head with moustachial stripes on cheeks . Long, pointed wings . Long tail . Long legs.

Lanner Falcon illustrated, Image: Carin Malan


Rock Kestrel illustrated








Small falcons that lack moustachial streaks . Compact & short-necked, with large heads and long tails . Pointed wings that are adapted to gliding & they can also soar . Will perch-hunt . They tend to take invertebrate prey on the ground by hovering & dropping down on the prey . Also do not build their own nests.

These two species are potentially confusing: Rock Kestrel/ Kransvalk : Resident & tend to occur in pairs , heavy marks on uniform russet wing , not pale below , dark feet and female the same .  Lesser Kestrel/ Kleinrooivalk : Summer migrant- large flocks , no marks on wing with grey wing bar , male beige below , whitish feet and female different.

Rock Kestrel. Image: Richard Masson


Lesser Kestrel. Image: Mark D. Anderson








Greater Kestrel/ Grootrooivalk : Resident in arid regions , large, pale beige Kestrel with pertinent barring on back & wing , front & back similar in colour, whitish eye, no malar stripe and white vent. Often in association with Cape Crows. Crows

KESTREL FLIGHT PATTERNS: Long pointed wings . Long tail . Moustachial stripes not as prominent on the cheeks


Small to medium-sized raptors with short, broad wings and longish tails - adapted to move through dense, normally bushy habitats . At rest the folded wings do not extend to the tip of tail . Identification difficult due to age, colour & size differences between sexes. Females bigger, particularly in bird-eating species . All species are able to run after prey on the ground.

These two species are potentially confusing: African Goshawk/ Afrikaanse Sperwer: Soft barring on chest, little, if any yellow on cere, gape & around eye, vent not barred and straw coloured legs. Little Sparrowhawk/ Kleinsperwer: Bold barring on chest, lots of yellow on cere, gape & around eye, vent barred, bright legs and significantly smaller than African Goshawk.


African Goshawk


Little Sparrowhawk










Hawk flight patterns: Small rounded head - delicate beak , long thin legs , long tail , short broad & rounded wings for dexterous flight.

Black Sparrowhawk illustrated. Image: Richard Masson


Cape Vultures illustrated. Image: MC Botha







These two Vulture species are potentially confusing: Cape Griffon/ Kaapse Aasvoël : Pale eye , blue-grey on neck , paler in appearance , status problematic and contrasting underwing (Three-tone).  White-backed Griffon/ Witrugaasvoël : Dark eye , darker grey in face & neck , darker in appearance and uniform underwing (Two-tone)


Cape Vulture. Image: MC Botha


White-backed Vulture






VULTURE FLIGHT PATTERNS: Appear small- headed as head is retracted in flight , wings very long & broad - long fingers for soaring flight. Wings appear to be 'straight' at the back . Tail short and fan- shaped: wedge-shaped in Egyptian & Bearded Vultures.



CHRISTINE ANNE CLEAL (posted: 2013-04-10)
I enjoyed the presentation, and am sending it on to my birding friends in Britain.Tanks for a great evening on Monday.