How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
Though The Peregrine Fund doesn't work directly with White Hawks, our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve birds of prey around the world. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation.
Where they live
Like the Harpy Eagle, or the Black-hawk Eagle, the White Hawk is a neotropical species found only in the Americas. Its range extends from southern Mexico through much of Central America, south to Bolivia and parts of Brazil. It lives in lowland habitats from sea level to about 1,500 meters above sea level.
It spends its time hunting, perching and soaring above foothills or above wet primary and late second-growth forested areas in hilly terrain.
What they do
As you might expect, the White Hawk is a mostly white hawk. However, this species exhibits great variation in its coloration. The northern sub-species is almost all white overall, while individuals found in southern Central America and northern South America have more black on their upper wing coverts and tail. Sub-species found further south have even more black mixed in, so that the individuals found furthest south have completely black backs. All individuals have pale yellow legs, and a light gray bill with a black tip. Eye color ranges from brown to yellow. Their ceres can also vary in color.
The White Hawk spends a lot of time soaring - in fact one of the best ways to see this gorgeous bird is to look up to the sky and listen for its sharp calls. It can be seen soaring alone, in pairs, or sometimes in threes. Researchers have described this species "lethargic" and have observed that it is easily approached by humans. This bird of prey also spends a good deal of time perching - perhaps on a dead stub at the forest edge or in clearings.
White Hawks, 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, the only threat they face is humans. Top predators, such as the White Hawk, play an important role in nature by helping to control populations of prey animals and maintain a balance in the ecosystems where they live.
They 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 White Hawk. To protect these hawks, we must protect the forests they live in, the animals they need for food, and the plants and animals those animals feed on. Conserving White Hawks and their habitat automatically provides protection for all the other plants and animals that live there too.
Whey they need our help
Even though White Hawk is common throughout most portions of its extensive range, and is categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International, this doesn't mean that the species is free from risk. Scientists have noticed this species declining in areas wherever its forest habitats are destroyed, mainly for agriculture and livestock. The government of Mexico has given the White Hawk special conservation status because researchers estimate over half of its population has been lost in Mexico over the last 100 years.
What they eat
The White Hawk is a reptile hunter - feeding mainly on snakes and lizards. However, its long menu of prey items doesn't stop there. It also enjoys snacking on small mammals, including rats, squirrels, small opossums and bats. Researchers have documented the White Hawk feeding on a number of bird species including Keel-billed Toucan, a Mottled Owl, a White-breasted Wood Wren and a Great Tinamou - which is quite a large bird. It also feeds on amphibians and large insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers. Though rare, there is some evidence that this hawk may occasionally feed on fish. One researcher in Suriname found remains of a fish in a White Hawk's stomach.
Generally, the White Hawk prefers to hunt inside the canopy or at forest edges and gaps. It is a patient hunter, waiting quietly on a perch for prey to appear on the ground, a tree trunk or a nearby branch. When it does, the White Hawk quickly moves on its prey, snatching it with its strong feet and sharp talons.
Nests, Eggs and Young
White Hawks, like many birds of prey, build cupped platform nests made out of sticks and twigs. They line their nests with leaves to create a soft spot for the eggs. They often build their nest high up in a tree, sometimes among a bramble of epiphytes.
When the time is right, the female will lay one egg. Her egg may vary in color from white to bluish-white with brown and reddish-brown markings. Researchers believe that the female is in charge of all incubation duties. This means she sits on her eggs almost constantly to keep them safe and warm. She will get up occasionally to stretch, to eat and to gently turn the eggs, but she will remain on or very close to her eggs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until her young hatch. The average incubation period is about 35 days. During this time, the male works hard to ensure that he and the female get enough to eat. After the young hatches, both adults will help feed it, though the male will do the majority of the hunting, at least while the nestling is very young.
The young bird will grow quickly in the nest. This means it must eat a lot so it can grow big and strong. After only a few months or so, this once tiny ball of fluff will be fully feathered and ready to fly for the first time. Researchers have documented young flying from their nest as young as 66 days, while others fledged at 88 days!
After the young fledges, it will still remain with its parents for a while as it learns to hunt on its own and avoid danger.
White Hawks generally nest every other year.
White Hawk and the World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes await you. At our visitor center, you can see many hawks up close and learn about the wonderful and interesting adaptations they have in order to survive in their respective habitats. "Pheonix" our resident Red-tailed Hawk, and "Griffon" the Swainson's Hawk are two of the Buteo hawk species that call the World Center for Birds of Prey home.
BirdLife International. 2016. Pseudastur albicollis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22695786A93527923. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22695786A93527923.en. Downloaded on 04 June 2020.
Draheim, G.S., 1995. Breeding biology and habitat requirements of the White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis) in Guatemala.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: White Hawk Pseudastur albicollis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 4 Jun. 2020
Komar, O., 2003. Predation on birds by the White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis). Ornitologia Neotropical, 14, pp.541-543.
Magnier, B. and T. S. Schulenberg (2020). White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whihaw1.01