Bat Hawk: Predator of bats

on 4th October 2007


The Bat Hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus) is a raptor found in the sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Malay Peninsular, Sumatra, Banka, Borneo, Sulawesi and New Guinea. The bird is a rare visitor to Singapore.

This is a fairly large black hawk with a distinct crest (left). It is often not noticed because it is active only at night. During the day it perches quietly, almost horizontally on the branch of a tall tree, seldom leaving, even for a short while. It becomes active at dusk when it goes on the lookout for small bats, swifts, swallows and large insects.

Prey is caught using the hawk’s talons, usually after a high-speed chase, and transferred to the mouth to be swallowed whole while still in the air. As the period available for hunting is short – at dusk until darkness descends and a short period in the early morning – it needs to hunt where prey is plentiful, like at a cave entrance.

The image below, taken by Wilson Yang, clearly shows one Bat Hawk with a few others among the stream of bats emerging from their roost, probably a cave, in Borneo.


Observations made near a cave in Zambia record a foraging Bat Hawk catching, on an average, seven insectivorous bats during six consecutive nights (Black et al., 1979). As the bats flew out of the cave, the hawk intercepted them and either struck. caught or failed to make contact. The feeding bouts lasted 18.3 minutes per night and the success rate was 49%. The time between killing and swallowing of each bat (average weight 56.3 g) was 6.0 seconds.

Another specialist bat predator is the African Harrier-hawk (Polyboroides typus). There are also a number of owls, goshawks, peregrines and kestrels that occasionally catch bats.

Raptors predating on bats are better known than birds predated by bats. However, there have been recent accounts of giant bats snatching birds from the night sky (1, 2).

YC Wee
October 2007

Images: Lim Kim Chye and Yian (hawk), Wilson Yang (back). Check out Wilson’s Flickr site.

1. Altringham, J.D. (1996). Bats: Biology and behaviour. Oxford: University Press.
2. Black, H.L., Howard, G. & Stjernstedt, R. (1979). Observations on the feeding behavior of the Bat Hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus). Biotropica 11(1):18-21.
3. Fenton, M. B., Cumming, D. H. M. & Oxley, D. J. (1977). Prey of Bat Hawks and availability of bats. The Condor, 9:495-497.
4. Madoc, G. C. (1956). An introduction to Malayan birds. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. (revised ed.)
5. Richarz, K. & Limbrunner, A. (1993). The world of bats, the flying goblins of the night. T.F.H. Pub., Inc.
6. Wells, D.R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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