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the web of life in southern Africa

Macheiramphus alcinus (Bat hawk) 

Vlermuisvalk [Afrikaans]; Vleermuiswouw [Dutch]; Milan des chauves-souris [French]; Fledermausaar [German]; Gavião-morcegueiro [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae

Macheiramphus alcinus (Bat hawk)  Macheiramphus alcinus (Bat hawk)
Macheiramphus alcinus (Bat hawk)

Bat hawk. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]    

Top right: Bat hawk, South Africa. [photo Johan van Rensburg ©]                                                                                      Bottom right: Bat hawk, South Africa. [photo Stephen Davis ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa;. in southern Africa it is generally uncommon to rare in Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip (Namibia) and Limpopo Province, and it is a vagrant to KwaZulu-Natal. It generally prefers low-lying, moist woodland and valleys of major rivers, provided there are suitable roosting sites for bats, such as caves, Baobobs (Adansonia digitata) and old mine workings.

Distribution of Bat hawk in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Nestlings are eaten by Corvus albicollis (White-necked raven) 

Movements and migrations

Largely resident, however it is likely that it moves to lower altitudes in Winter, mimicking similar movements by bats.


It mainly eats small insectivorous bats, doing most of its foraging at dusk when bats become active, usually in an open space adjacent to cliffs, buildings or large trees. It hawks prey aerially, catching the animal with its feet then eating it while in flight. In one hunting session it takes about 5-6, rarely up to 17 bats, consuming about one every 1-3 minutes. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, occasionally performing a display in which the male pursues the female, who performs aerial acrobatics.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a large structure of twigs, lined with green leaves. It is typically placed in the fork of a branch, in a large white or pale-barked tree. It probably prefers lightly-coloured trees because they are easier to locate at night.
  • Egg-laying season is mainly from August-February, peaking from September-October, although it may lay eggs at any time of year in urban areas.
  • It usually lays one, rarely two eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 51-53 days.
  • The chicks are at first brooded by the female constantly, but after a few days it stops doing so and instead stands guard near the nest, intermittently feeding them with bats. The chicks take their first flights at about 35-40 days old, but they leave the nest at about 67 days old, becoming fully independent approximately 60 days later.


Near-threatened in South Africa, due to its rarity and disappearance from former breeding sites. Destruction of woodland impacts the local bat populations it is dependent on, and it is persecuted by locals because they believe that it eats chickens, although it has never been observed doing so.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.