Wild Birds

Bat Hawks (Macheiramphus alcinus)

The Bat Hawks (Macheiramphus alcinus) – also known as Bat-eating Buzzards, Bat-eating Hawks, Bat Kites, or Bat Perns – are raptors found in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia to south-eastern New Guinea, in habitats varying from dense tropical forest to semi-arid bush veld.

They are mostly active at dusk or dawn when these birds will be seen hunting their favorite prey – bats. They are typically seen alone or – particularly so during the breeding seasons – in pairs.

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Within their natural range, these hawks can typically be seen in the evening as they hunt over large green areas, moist wooded and forested areas, bodies of water such as pools, large rivers and creeks, and beaches.

Some have also adapted well to living in exotic tree plantations (particularly eucalyptus plantations), villages, and cities.

Habitats by Region:

Far East: Bat Hawks often hunt close to the mouths of limestone and other caves inhabited by Birds-nest Swiftlets.

Borney / Malay Peninsula Occur in the mature and disturbed forest with some tall cover. Most commonly found in the vicinity of limestone caves frequented by bats and swiftlets

New Guinea: Found in partly cleared or disturbed forests and gallery forests. Sometimes spotted close to busy roads.

Africa: Savanna woodlands, along coasts. Avoid dense forests.

Subspecies and Ranges:

  • Bat Hawk (nominate) – Macheiramphus alcinus alcinus, Bonaparte, 1850
    • Range: Southern Myanmar, western Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo and north-central Sulawesi
  • Bat Hawk (ssp. papuanus) – Macheiramphus alcinus papuanus, Mayr, 1940
    • Range: Eastern New Guinea
  • Bat Hawk (ssp. anderssoni) – Macheiramphus alcinus anderssoni, Gurney, 1866
    • Range: Africa south of the Sahara (Senegal east to Ethiopia and south to South Africa) and the island of Madagascar


These slender, mid-sized hawks have distinctive short, pointed, black head crests. Adults have mostly dark brown or black plumage, except for a white patch on their throat and upper chest. Juveniles have a mottled brown plumage with more extensive white markings on the chest than adults.

They have long wings. The large eyes are bright yellow. The long and slender legs and toes are pale bluish-grey.


  • Body Length: 17 inches (~43 – 45 cm)
  • Wingspan: 3 – 4 feet (~ 1-1.3 m)
  • Weight: 21 – 23 ounces (~600 – 650 g)
  • Males and females are about the same size.

Diet / Feeding

Bat hawks are known for preying on insectivorous small bats weighing 20-75 grams; but they will also hunt swallows and other hirundine, swifts, swiftlets, and nightjars, or even large insects.

At dusk, when bats are emerging from their day roosts, these skilled hunters have been reported to capture and eat as many as 11 bats in 18 minutes. Bats are typically taken in flight and swallowed whole in mid-air.

Breeding / Nesting

Bat Hawks breed most years – and occasionally may produce more than one clutch. The male performs nuptial (breeding display) flights to attract a female’s attention and goodwill. These displays may include stunt flying, foot-touching, and rolling displays – often performed at high speeds. As they approach a tree, they sweep up onto a perch close to the female.

The mated pair builds a large stick platform nest placed high up in a tree (favoring Eucalyptus or Baobab trees) draped over a horizontal branch or situated on upright forks. The nest structure measures as much as about three feet across by one foot deep with a broad shallow cup in the center. Their nest is lined with fine twigs and green plant material. Nests are reused year after year.

A typical clutch consists of one pale bluish-green egg. Rarely a second egg is laid. The female does most of the incubation, with the occasional assistance of the male to allow the female to get off the nest to bathe and forage.

The eggs are incubated for about 42-48 days until the hatchlings emerge. The young remain in the nest for another 65 – 68 days before fledging. Both parents feed and protect the nestlings.

Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds

Bat Hawks are typically silent. However, at dusk or during breeding displays, these hawks emit varied high-pitched, broken whistles, rendered as ‘ki-kik-kik-kik-keee’ or ‘kwiek-kwiek‘.

Alternate (Global) Names

Afrikaans: Vlermuisvalk … Chinese: ??? … Czech: lu?ák netopý?í, Netopýrár hnedý … Danish: Flagermusglente … Dutch: Vleermuiswouw … German: Fledermausaar … Finnish: Lepakkohaukka … French: Alcin / Buse / Faucon / Milan des chauves-souris … Hebrew: ??? ?????? … Indonesian: Alap-alap / Elang kelelawar … Italian: Nibbio / Sparviro dei pipistrelli … Japanese: koumoridaka / ?????? … Malagasy: Hila … Malay: Burung Lang / Helang Malam … Norwegian: Flaggermusglente … Polish: gackozer, gacko?er … Portuguese: Gavião-morcegueiro … Russian: ??????-?????????, ??????????? ?????? … Slovak: lunia?ik netopierí, netopierar súmra?ný … Spanish: Milanito Plomizo, Milano Murcielaguero / Murcilaguero … Swedish: Fladdermusvråk … Swahili: Mwewe Mlapopo … Thai: ??????????????


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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