The double-joined raptor

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

QUITE some time back, almost 20 years ago in fact, a prominent birding magazine ran a quiz of sorts in each issue.

I SEE YOU: The African harrier-hawk climbs around in the branches of trees, looking for weaver nests or woodpecker holes Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

One particular issue’s quiz was comprised largely of anagrams of bird names, although they did not mention that these were anagrams. That, the participant had to figure out for him/herself.

One such clue said, “This double-jointed raptor is made from Moggy Nene”. I remember thinking to myself, “Moggy? That’s a slang term for a cat. What bird has anything to do with a cat?” Then the penny dropped with the “double-jointed raptor” bit. There is only one raptor that I know of that is “double-jointed” in a sense… the gymnogene. Yep, “Moggy Nene” turned out to be an anagram of gymnogene and nothing at all to do with cats!

Since then, the name of the gymnogene has been changed to African harrier-hawk. This raptor is quite easily recognised in its adult plumage, being grey all over with an odd-shaped head. The wings are large and broad with a narrow black edge. The tail is black with a distinctive white band across it.

The old name gymnogene was derived from the bird’s bare cheeks. These bare cheeks are interesting, as they are normally pale yellow in colour. However, when the harrier-hawk gets excited or flustered in any way, the pale yellow flushes to a deeper yellow, orange or pink! The juveniles are a bit trickier to identify, as they come in various colours, patterns and phases of plumage, often being heavily barred under the wings, but that distinctive head shape is always a giveaway.

The African harrier-hawk lives in hilly country, preferably wooded areas, although they do wander and can turn up in gardens and towns. As mentioned earlier, they are indeed double jointed. They will fly up to a tree and clumsily climb and flap about in the branches, looking for weaver nests or woodpecker holes. Their legs are thin enough to reach inside these nests and twist about in order to grab their food… a tasty chick.

Well, that’s it for another “chirp”. Please remember that I am available for birdwatching tours in our area. You can contact me on 072-314-0069 for more information. Until next time, take care!


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