Black-and-white Hawk-eagle

Spizaetus melanoleucus
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
50-60 cm (20-24 in)
117 cm (46 in)
850 g (30 oz)
Black-and-white Hawk-eagle by Angel Muela

Angel Muela

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Did you know

  • Despite its extensive range, the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle is considered to be rare and very little is actually known about the biology of this species.
  • Though it has been seen feeding on a monkey, no one has ever observed it actually killing one.                                                                                                 



Other Eagles

How The Peregrine Fund is helping

The Peregrine Fund spent nine years from 1988 to 1996 studying Neotropical birds of prey in the Peten region of Guatemala in an ambitious undertaking called the Maya Project. This information helped contribute to the scientific world's knowledge of these species, including the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle. This is important because the more we know about a species, the better we are able to help conserve it. The Peregrine Fund published the results of the Maya Project in a book called "Neotropical Birds of Prey, Biology and Ecology of a Forest Raptor Community."

Where they live

Similar to the Black Hawk-eagle, the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle is a Neotropical bird of prey, found from southern Mexico to eastern Peru, through Brazil and northern Argentina. 

The Black-and-white Hawk-eagle lives in low and middle elevations forests, but can be frequently found along forest edges, gaps, and heavily shaded clearings in wet gallery forest and sometimes isolated stands of wet forest remnants in savannas.

What they do

The Black-and-white Hawk-eagle is arguably one of the most stunning Neotropical birds of prey. As you may have guessed by its name, this species is mainly black and white. But, it has so many more colors than that. Its head, breast and leg feathers are pure, almost snow white. Its back and crest are pitch black, and it has a black mask around its eyes, which are bright yellow. Its cere is yellow-orange, its feet are bright yellow, its beak is black and its tail is marked with alternating black and gray bands.

Some biologists, when observing the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle in graceful flight, have been reminded of the way other raptors, namely kites, fly. When not soaring, it spends its time perching high in tall trees, but according to observations, it doesn’t remain in one spot for too long, before flying on to another stopping place.

The call of this species has been described by biologist Marcus Canuto as being composed of “three to five clear, fast whistles…”

Black-and-white Hawk-eagles, like all top predators, play a very important role in their environment. Top predators are those animals that hunt other animals for food but no animals hunt them on a regular basis. For most top predators, their only threat is humans. Top predators help to control populations of prey animals and maintain a balance in the ecosystems where they live.

Black-and-white Hawk-eagles are also known as an umbrella species. Just as several people can stand under a large umbrella and be protected from the rain, so too can many species of wildlife be protected by conserving one species like the Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. To protect the eagles, we must protect the animals they need for food, the plants and animals those animals feed on, and the trees that they nest in, which helps protect the other animals that use these trees for food, shelter, and space. Conserving Black-and-white Hawk-eagles and their habitat automatically provides protection for all the other plants and animals that live there too.

Why they need our help

The Black-and-white Hawk-eagle is considered Endangered in southern Mexico and Central America because it appears to be quite rare in almost every country in Central America, except for, perhaps, Panama and Belize.

This species seems to be more common in South America, but it is still rare or uncommon in most areas, and it has suffered major population declines in some portions of its range. Though it is currently considered a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International – meaning biologists believe populations will continue to do well far into the future - from what researchers can tell, populations are in decline and individuals are suffering from habitat fragmentation, and because humans kill them.

What they eat

Though it was often assumed that this raptor is a keen large mammal-hunter (an assumption made because it has quite large talons – which seem perfectly made for capturing large prey), it has principally been documented as feeding on mid-sized birds including toucans, wood-quails, oropendolas, caciques, and ducks. However, it will also feed on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, including toads. Biologists with The Peregrine Fund have also observed this eagle chasing and attempting to attack the smaller Orange-breasted Falcon.

Like most raptors, this eagle is a skilled hunter and most often is seen hunting on the wing. It begins by soaring high in the sky, then stooping quickly into the canopy after its prey. It has also been observed hunting from exposed perches in tall trees, or by pursuing prey in tail chases. It has been known to attack birds that are flocked together in fruiting trees.

Nest, eggs and young

Though little is known about the nesting habits of the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle, a few nests have been described in Panama, Honduras, Belize and Brazil. Nets were described as large and cup-shaped, and were built of large sticks and twigs fashioned into a nest at the top of emergent trees in primary rainforest.

There is much we still need to learn about this eagle's breeding biology. One report documented a clutch of 2 eggs, but most others state that females can lay only one egg per clutch. The eggs have been described as creamy white with dark brown, gray-lilac, and light brown spots. More research needs to be done to learn about fledging age of young, how long they remain with the adults after fledging, and so much more. This is a great species to study for a budding biologist who would like to spend time in the Neotropical rainforest!

Black and White Hawk-eagle and the World Center for Birds of Prey

The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about raptors. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets and quizzes to costumes and a touch table are available for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-round, including several eagle species! Though we don't have any resident Black Hawk-eagles at the World Center for Birds of Prey, if you visit you will be rewarded with an opportunity to meet Fancy, our resident Ornate Hawk-eagle. At the visitor center, you will see this amazingly colorful bird of prey up close in our outdoor aviary. Come learn about this unique species and all its rainforest neighbors, including the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle.


BirdLife International 2016. Spizaetus melanoleucusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696120A93546145. on 27 July 2019.

Black-and-white Hawk-eagle

Canuto, M. ( 2008). First description of the nest of the Black-and-White Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucus) in the brazilian Atlantic Rainforest, Southeast Brazil. Ornitología Neotropical19, pp.607-610.

Global Raptor Information Network. 2019. Species account: Black-and-white Hawk-eagle Spizaetus melanoleucus. Downloaded from on 26 Jul. 2019

Tate, A. R. (2012). Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Willis, E.O., 1988. A hunting technique of the Black and White Hawk-eagle (Spizastur melanoleucus). Wilson Bulletin, pp.672-675.