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What is a White Hawk?

By Angie Bates
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The white hawk is a neotropical bird of prey which lives almost exclusively in Central and South America, ranging from southern Mexico to Brazil. There are four subspecies of the white hawk. These subspecies are distinguished by the birds' locations and by small differences in their coloring. The scientific name for the white hawk superspecies is leucopternis albicollis.

The four subspecies of white hawk are leucopternis albicollis ghiesbreghti, found primarily in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala; leucopternis albicollis williaminae, found largely in Venezuela and Columbia; leucopternis albicollis costaricensis, found mostly in Columbia, Honduras, and Panama; and leucopternis albicollis albicollis, found in parts of Columbia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Venezuela, Peru, Trinidad, and Bolivia. White Hawks are considered common everywhere they are found except for El Salvador, where they are considered endangered.

White hawks measure between 17-22 inches (43-56 cm). They have white bodies and black markings on their broad wings. Depending on the subspecies, their wings and tails can be almost completely black or just have small black markings near the bottom of the primary feathers. The southern species tend to have a larger amount of black coloring than the northern. All species have a whistling call.

A forest bird, the white hawk lives in hilly lowlands or foothills, preferring wet areas near bodies of water or jungles. It spends much of its time perched at the edges of tree lines, often appearing lethargic. When airborne, it usually flies over forests and will avoid open areas. This hawk is presumed to be non-migratory.

White hawks mainly hunt small reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, but they will eat almost any small animal, consuming mammals, amphibians, birds, and insects. Unlike many birds of prey, white hawks do not catch their prey in flight. Instead, they wait on branches, then glide quickly to the ground to capture their meals. White hawks are also known to follow capuchin monkeys because the monkeys will flush out snakes with their passing.

Generally about 65 feet (20 m) above the forest floor, white hawk nests are made of sticks and leaves. Females lay only one egg, which hatches after 34-36 days. Only the female incubates the egg, but once hatched, both parents feed the young. The young can fly any time between 65 to 88 days after hatching. Studies suggest that the young hawk may be dependent on the parents for at least a year, but there is limited research into this behavior.

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