Shikra

The shikra is considered to be the commonest small hawk of dry woodland and savanna in Africa and India. The adult male shikra is smaller than the female with a striking red eye, pale grey plumage above and barred chestnut feathers below. In contrast, the adult female is darker and browner, with a deep-orange eye. The immature can be identified by the black stripe on the throat, the brown, drop-like streaking on the breast, the barring on the flanks, and the yellow-brown eyes.

The shikra is considered to be the commonest small hawk of dry woodland and savanna in Africa and India. The adult male shikra is smaller than the female with a striking red eye, pale grey plumage above and barred chestnut feathers below. In contrast, the adult female is darker and browner, with a deep-orange eye. The immature can be identified by the black stripe on the throat, the brown, drop-like streaking on the breast, the barring on the flanks, and the yellow-brown eyes. A noisy species, the shikra typically produces a loud, piercing “kitoukitou” call. There are six subspecies of shikra, which can be distinguished by size, the extent of brown colouration in the upperparts and rufous in the underparts, and by geographical location.

An aggressive hunter, the shikra mainly hunts from a perch, making a short dash through the branches to snatch prey from tree trunks, foliage or the ground. This forceful, surprise attack is usually sufficient to catch the lizards and small birds on which the shikra feeds, although on rare occasions it may engage in aerial pursuits. Other prey taken by this species include nestlings, eggs, bats, rodents, frogs and insects.

The shikra’s breeding season varies significantly according to location, but most commonly occurs at the end of the dry season. Populations breed between March and August in Sri Lanka; between January and June in India; January and May in west and north-east Africa, probably throughout the year in East Africa, between August and January in southern Africa, and in late May in Azerbaijan. Prior to nesting, the shikra is highly vocal and engages in soaring displays. Two to four eggs are laid in a small stick nest lined with bark flakes, which is placed in the outer fork of a horizontal tree branch. Incubation lasts for around 30 to 35 days according to location, with fledging occurring around 32 days later.

At the end of the breeding season, shikra populations located at the northern edge of its global range make a southward migration, some heading south-west to Arabia, but most travelling to Pakistan, India and south-east Asia. In other parts of its range, this species is resident throughout the year, although some seasonal movements occur in Africa.

The shikra has a large range, extending throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, and central and south-east Asia, as far as Thailand and Vietnam. This species is also found in the Arabian Peninsula, with native populations occupying Saudi Arabia and introduced populations occurring in the United Arab Emirates. The five subspecies of shikra inhabit separate parts of this range: Accipiter badius cenchroides is found in Azerbaijan, east to Kazakhstan, and Iran, east to north-west India; Accipiter badius dussumieri occupies central India and Bangladesh; Accipiter badius badius occurs in south-west India and Sri Lanka; Accipiter badius poliopsis is found in north-east India, east to southern China, and south to Thailand and Vietnam; Accipiter badius sphenurus inhabits Senegambia, east to south-west Arabia, and south to northern Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Tanzania; and Accipiter badius polyzonoides is found in southern Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Tanzania, south to northern South Africa.

The shikra inhabits a variety of wooded habitats, including deciduous closed-canopy woodland, savanna, small plantations of exotic trees, and urban parks and gardens. This species can also be found in areas of aridsteppe grassland.

With a very large global population, estimated at one million birds in 2009, and no major threats at present, there is little concern for the shikra’s survival. Indeed, this species is believed to be potentially capable of tolerating total deforestation within its habitat, and readily adapts to cultivated or urban areas.

The Shikra is a small goshawk, measuring 25 to 45 cm in length and weighing 100 to 200 grams. The female shikra is larger than the male and weighs 130 to 260 grams. The wingspan is 50 to 70 cm. The shikra has short rounded wings and a narrow and long tail. The underside is white with fine rufous bars. The upper parts are grey. The lower belly has fewer bars and the thighs are white. The wingtips are black and the central tail feathers have a dark terminal band. The male shikra have red iris and females have yellow-orange iris. The female shikra have brownish upper parts and the heavier barring on the underparts. Their call is a ‘pee-wee’ and sharper ‘kik-ki … kik-ki’ sound.

The Shikra has an extremely large range and considered least vulnerable. It is common in its range and the global population is not quantified. The loss of trees in the savanna and changes in the habitat brought about by human activities are the main threats to the survival of these bird species.