Black-and-white Hawk-eagle

Black-and-white Hawk-eagle

:"Buteo melanoleucus" and "Spizaetus melanoleucus" redirect here. These names are als junior homonyms of the Black-chested Eagle-buzzard ("Geranoaetus melanoleucus" or "Buteo fuscescens")."Taxobox
name = Black-and-white Hawk-eagle

image_width = 240px
status = LC
status_system = iucn3.1
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
subclassis = Neornithes
infraclassis = Neognathae
superordo = Neoaves
ordo = Falconiformes
familia = Accipitridae
genus = "Spizaetus"
species = "S. melanoleucus"
binomial = "Spizaetus melanoleucus"
binomial_authority = (Vieillot, 1816)
synonyms = "Buteo melanoleucus" Vieillot, 1816
"Spizastur melanoleucus" (Vieillot, 1816)

The Black-and-white Hawk-eagle ("Spizaetus melanoleucus", formerly "Spizastur melanoleucus") is a bird of prey species in the eagle and hawk family (Accipitridae). It is found throughout a large part of tropical America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.


As its name suggest, this is a black and white eagle, resembling the small typical eagles sometimes separated in "Hieraaetus". It is some 20-24 in (50-60 cm) long overall and weighs about 30 oz (850 g). The head, neck and body are white; a small crest forms a black spot on top of the head, and the area around the eyes, particularly towards the bill, is also black. The wings are black, and the bird has a brownish tail barred black-dark grey and with white tip. The iris is orange, the feet pale to bright yellow with black talons. The bill is black with a yellow cere.Bierregaard (1994b)]

The sexes are alike in color, but the female is larger. Immature birds have pale edges on the upperwing coverts and some brownish-grey feathers on the back.

The Black-and-white Hawk-eagle is hard to confuse with any other bird in its range. The Black-faced Hawk ("Leucopternis melanops") is very similar in overall coloration, but it is much smaller and has a black tail with a single bold white bar in the middle. The Ornate Hawk-Eagle ("Spizaetus ornatus"), presumably a very close relative of "S. melanoleucus", looks quite similar when young. However, the wings, back and tail are much lighter in young "S. ornatus", and they do not have the black eye-ring.

Distribution and ecology

This species occurs from Oaxaca to Veracruz in southern Mexico southwards throughout Central America, with the exception of most of El Salvador and the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. In South America, it occurs on the Pacific side of the Andes south to Ecuador. The bulk of its range extends along the Caribbean coast from northern Colombia and Venezuela to the Guianas, and south through eastern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to NE Argentina, and from there westwards again to Beni and Santa Cruz in NE Bolivia. A Black-and-white Hawk-eagle population is also found in the Loreto Region of NE Peru; it is not known in how far this is isolated from the rest of the bird's range. The species is absent from western Amazonia.

Its natural habitats are lowland forests of any type, though very dense and humid as well as savanna-like semiarid habitat are not preferred. Its range does not extend very far into the uplands, but one individual was sighted at an altitude of about 4,000 ft (c.1,200 m) ASL in the Buena Vista Nature Reserve in Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. [Bierregaard (1994b), Strewe & Navarro (2004)]

The food of this carnivore consists of mammals, toads, squamates and in particular a wide variety of birds. Among the latter, it is known to prefer tree-living species, such as oropendolas, aracaris, tanagers and cotingas. But ground- and waterbirds like tinamous, chachalacas, cormorants and the highly threatened Brazilian Merganser ("Mergus octosetaceus") have also been recorded as its prey. The Black-and-white Hawk-eagle has been known to attack small monkeys, though it is not clear with which intent. For as it seems, it has not been recorded to actually kill and eat a monkey.

Its preferred hunting technique is to soar high until it has spotted suitable prey, and then dive down on it, usually right into the forest canopy, but it has also been observed to catch a White Woodpecker ("Melanerpes candidus") that had been mobbing it in mid-air, after lauching itself from its perch [Olmos "et al." (2006)] . It likes to hunt along ridges and forest edges where it can access the canopy-level from an oblique direction rather than just from directly above, and where ground-living prey is also more accessible.

It nests in the forest canopy, building a stick nest high up in exposed trees on ridges and similar locations, from where good hunting grounds can be watched. Detailed observations on its nesting habits are nearly non-existent however. In Panama, birds started to construct a nest in September, during a dry spell in the rainy season. But the main nesting season may start before the onset of the rainy season as the nesting attempt was abandoned when heavy rains recommenced. The scant other data agrees with this, and at least in Central America the nesting season seems to run from March to June or so.

There is a general lack of information on the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle's movements and population status. Each bird seems to require a hunting territory of about 3,500 acres (1,400 hectars) at least. While the variety of habitat types in which it is found suggests that it is not particularly susceptible to changes in land use, it is apparently still a rare and local species almost anywhere in its range. The IUCN until 2000 classified it as a Near Threatened species due to the uncertainties surrounding its status, but as no evidence of a marked decline has been found and as the bird is found across a wide range, it was downlisted to a Species of Least Concern. [Bierregaard (1994b), BLI (2004), Strewe & Navarro (2004), Olmos "et al." (2006)]

Taxonomy and systematics

This species is often placed in the monotypic genus "Spizastur", but has recently been moved to "Spizaetus" e.g. by the American Ornithologists' Union, as it appears that the Ornate Hawk-Eagle ("S. ornatus") is its sister taxon [Banks "et al." (2007)] . This has created quite some taxonomic confusion, which has largely gone unnoticed however:

Originally, the name "Spizaetus melanoleucus" was given by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot to the Black-chested Eagle-buzzard (or "buzzard-eagle") in 1819, while the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle had been described in 1816 by the very same scientist as "Buteo melanoleucus". The former species was placed in "Geranoaetus" – also a monotypic genus – in 1844, while the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle had been moved out of "Buteo" and into "Spizastur" a few years earlier. [Bierregaard (1994a,b)]

Thus, the identical specific names never came into direct conflict until recently. But the Black-chested Eagle-buzzard's placement in a monotypic genus was always disputed, and several authors treated it in "Buteo" [E.g. Wetmore (1933)] . However, they overlooked that "Buteo melanoleucus" was the original name of the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle and thus as a senior homonym could not be applied to the later-described species. The correct specific name for the Black-chested Eagle-buzzard when placed in "Buteo", "Buteo fuscescens", was reestablished in the mid-20th century for a short time more by accident than anything else; as most late-20th-century researchers argued for retaining "Geranoaetus", this name was dismissed as erroneous and essentially forgotten [Amadon (1963)] .

More recent evidence suggests that "Geranoaetus" may indeed well warrant merging into "Buteo"; some authors are already applying this change. But usually the incorrect name "Buteo melanoleucus" is used for the Black-chested Eagle-buzzard in such cases [E.g. Amorim & de Queiroz Piacentini (2006)] , as the researchers who brought fourth the new data in favor of a merger were also unaware of the homonymy.



* (1963): Comparison of Fossil and Recent Species: Some Difficulties. "Condor" 65: 407-409. [ DjVu fulltext] [ PDF fulltext]
* (2006): Novos registros de aves raras em Santa Catarina, Sul do Brasil, incluindo os primeiros registros documentados de algumas espécies para o Estado [New records of rare birds, and fi rst reports of some species, in the state of Santa Catarina, southern Brazil] . "Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia" 14(2): 145-149 [Portuguese with English abstract] . [ PDF fulltext] [ Electronic supplement]
* (2007): Forty-eighth Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-List of North American Birds. "Auk" 124(3): 1109-1115. DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2007)124 [1109:FSTTAO] 2.0.CO;2 [ PDF fulltext]
* (1994a): 170. Black-chested Buzzard-eagle. "In:" aut|del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew & Sargatal, Jordi (eds.): "Handbook of Birds of the World" (Vol.2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl): 175, plate 16. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-15-6
* (1994b): 224. Black-and-white Hawk-eagle. "In:" aut|del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew & Sargatal, Jordi (eds.): "Handbook of Birds of the World" (Vol.2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl): 201, plate 21. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-15-6
*|year=2004|id=20662|title=Spizastur melanoleucus|downloaded=24 July 2007
* (2006): Notas sobre aves de rapina (Cathartidae, Acciptridae e Falconidae) brasileiras [Notes on Brazilian birds of prey] . "Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia" 14(4): 401-404 [Portuguese with English abstract] . [ PDF fulltext]
* (2004): New and noteworthy records of birds from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, north-eastern Colombia. "Bull. B.O.C." 124(1): 38-51. [ PDF fulltext]
* (1933): Status of the Genus "Geranoaëtus". "Auk" 50(2): 212. [ DjVu fulltext] [ PDF fulltext]

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