Five curious small raptors in the Overberg that need protecting

Birds have a tendency to ignore boundaries. So over the years, bird-watching folk in the Overberg have seen a number of interesting, rare and threatened species appear in our region that normally would not have occurred here. 

Fascinating birds of prey in particular have been identified here. Think of the Montagu’s Harrier photographed flying over the Nuwejaars wetlands. Or the Gabar Goshawk, of which there are also a number of recorded sightings.

These small to medium-sized raptors have come to the attention of the Overberg Crane Group. And we now work with partners to better understand some of these species, and to raise awareness around them to protect them in our borders.

Top image: Lanner Falcon, @timmcclurg, iNaturalist
Right: Amur Falcon, @felix_riegel, iNaturalist

While there are too many to mention, here are five standouts that either need protection, or that are becoming an increasingly important feature in the Overberg.

Amur Falcon

This small falcon is a summer visitor to South Africa – usually to the eastern parts of the country. But it is seen in the Overberg, often over the Overberg Wheatbelt from October to May. It only breeds in Russia, Mongolia and parts of North Korea, and moves down to Africa, to countries such as Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. But in order to get here, Amur Falcons move through some countries, such as India, where they are known to have been captured for food in the past, often in their hundreds of thousands.

This species mostly eats insects – so the locusts that emerge in the Overberg in summer, following the late winter rains, provide them with ample food. They’re listed as Least Concern on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

Image: @mariedelport, iNaturalist

Lanner Falcon

Lanner falcons are resident in South Africa, across much of Africa (they don’t occur as dominantly in north African countries), south-east Europe, such as Italy and Greece, and just into Asia. In fact, this species has a rich connection to Africa, with the Ancient Egyptian god, Ra, often shown as a man with a Lanner Falcon’s head.

Lanner Falcons are not threatened globally, although they face many threats such as egg and chick collection for falconry and sports-shooting in Italy. In South Africa they’re listed as Vulnerable. They stay in the grassland areas in the east of the country during breeding season, and travel to the Overberg’s Fynbos regions during the summer (although there are records of individuals remaining here over winter periods). They’re threatened here by powerline collisions, while the threat of secondary poisoning still needs to be understood better.

Image: @timmcclurg, iNaturalist

Lesser Kestrel

 There may be many reports of the Lesser Kestrel across the Overberg, but it remains a fairly unusual summer visitor here. It’s listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, but was only downlisted a few years ago from Vulnerable. 

Lesser Kestrels occur across much of Africa and Asia, and small sections of Europe. They don’t breed in the Overberg, rather enjoying our agricultural areas and surrounding vegetation to forage for food. But South Africa’s loss of grasslands and forests have proven to threaten their numbers. In the Overberg especially, the use of pesticides in agriculture will very likely impact on the species, because they mainly eat insects, although may also feed on small birds, reptiles and rodents. 

Image: @dbeadle, iNaturalist

Little Sparrowhawk

This species occurs all along the south and eastern coast of South Africa, up to the Overberg – and then into sub-Saharan African countries such as Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. While it prefers woodland, in the Overberg it occurs in Fynbos and agricultural areas, and even in suburban gardens. It also breeds here, usually laying its eggs between September and December.

The Little Sparrowhawk is a prolific hunter: it can even catch a bird up to the size of a dove. However, it will also eat frogs, lizards, rodents and large insects. Its conservation status is Least Concern globally.

Image: @robinjames, iNaturalist

Forest Buzzard

The Forest Buzzard is endemic to South Africa, occurring from Cape Town in the West, all along the coast up to KwaZulu-Natal, with its range stretching into Mpumalanga and Limpopo. They’re listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN’s Global Red List, but are regionally considered Least Concern.

As the name suggests, the species likes the forest areas, where it hunts for prey such as rodents, birds, snakes, lizards and frogs. In the Overberg, it likely benefits from many of the invasive trees such as Eucalyptus, Acacia species and Spidergum. It certainly makes use of exotic plantations where it breeds. But conservationists recommend better understanding the population size and trends of the species, especially in the Western Cape.

Image: @daryldbs, iNaturalist

Other small to medium raptors

There are a range of other small raptors in the Overberg which the OCG and its partners work to protect and raise awareness of. These include the Rufous-Breasted Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, a number of kites and more. And of course these join the threatened raptors such as Black Harrier and African Marsh Harrier which are at the heart of the conservation work taking place in the Overberg – driven by the likes of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust and the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area.


– Birdlife Overberg

– IUCN Red List

– iNaturalist

– Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust

– Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area