Ornate hawk-eagle (Spizaetus ornatus)

Adult ornate hawk-eagle
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Ornate hawk-eagle fact file

Ornate hawk-eagle description

GenusSpizaetus (1)

The ornate hawk-eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) is an arresting bird of prey, with strikingly coloured plumage, piercing golden eyes (2), and a sharp, hooked bill capable of tearing flesh and breaking bones (4). A crest of black feathers sits on top of the head, which usually lies flat but may be erected into a prominent spike in excitement (5). The sides of the head and the back of the neck are a warm chestnut (2), blending into the black plumage of the back and wings (5). The tail is also black, but is patterned with three greyish-brown bars (2) (5). The underparts are white and boldly marked with black bars below the breast (2), with the feathers even extending down the legs, giving this eagle the appearance of wearing socks (5). The strong, muscular, yellow feet bear long, sharp talons (2) (4), and are an equally important tool as the bill for hunting and crushing prey (4). In flight, the ornate hawk-eagle may be recognised by the white underside of its bluntly rounded wings (5). Female ornate hawk-eagles are typically larger than males, while a juvenile can be distinguished by its lack of chestnut plumage (6), and its whiter underparts (2). Two subspecies of the ornate hawk-eagle are recognised; Spizaetus ornatus ornatus and Spizaetus ornatus vicarius, the latter of which has brighter and deeper chestnut plumage on the head and neck (2).

Falco ornatus.
Length: 58 – 67 cm (2)
Male weight: c. 1000 g (2)
Female weight: c. 1450 g (2)

Ornate hawk-eagle biology

The ornate hawk-eagle is most often seen soaring over the forest, with short butterfly-like wing flutters interspersing gentle circular glides, as it calls with a loud whistle (5). When perched, it is far more inconspicuous (5), an important component of its efficient hunting strategy. From a perch it will scan the surrounding forest and ground for suitable prey (2), which includes a wide range of birds, including macaws, parrots, toucans and chickens; mammals, such as kinkajous, agoutis, squirrels and rats; and occasionally reptiles, such as iguanas and snakes (2). There are also records of this eagle preying on primates, with the remains of a squirrel monkey and a tamarin being found in a nest (7).

The ornate hawk-eagle has a rather long courtship period, which begins one to two months before egg-laying and involves aerial displays and calling (2). The nests of this species are difficult to spot, as they are typically situated high in the forest (7), protected from potential predators on the ground (2). The nest is constructed from sticks, measuring up to 1.7 metres across (7), and it is into this structure that the female lays a single egg (2). The egg is incubated for around 48 days, mostly by the female (2), and when the young hatches, the male will hunt and deliver the food to the female who will then feed the chick (2). When the young is about three weeks old, the female will begin hunting herself, and when the chick fledges at between 66 and 93 days, the female will then ignore her offspring (2).

The male then takes over the rest of the care and will bring food to the chick until it can hunt for itself. The young ornate hawk-eagle begins learning its sophisticated hunting technique by attacking fruit, diving and snatching at the food to practice this art. It is often not until the juvenile is a year old that it can catch live prey, at which point the chick will leave the nest and territory of the parents (8). The female is thought to use this time, free of any parental care, to recuperate before she breeds again (8), but even with this recovery time, ornate hawk-eagles are believed to only breed every third year (2).


Ornate hawk-eagle range

The ornate hawk-eagle ranges through Central and South America. The subspecies S. o. vicarius occurs in south-eastern Mexico, through Central America to western Colombia and western Ecuador (2). S. o. ornatus occurs in eastern Colombia, east to the Guianas and Trinidad, and south through parts of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil to Paraguay and Argentina (2).


Ornate hawk-eagle habitat

This powerful predator inhabits the humid forests of tropical and subtropical regions, usually up to 1,200 metres above sea level, but occasionally as high as 3,000 metres (2).


Ornate hawk-eagle status

The ornate hawk-eagle is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Ornate hawk-eagle threats

Due to its wide distribution and large global population, the ornate hawk-eagle is not currently thought to be at high risk of extinction (2). However, its low productivity means that this species could be vulnerable to the impacts of habitat destruction and hunting in the future (7). This may have already happened in some areas, such as in southern Brazil, when heavy deforestation has degraded the ornate hawk-eagle’s habitat (2).


Ornate hawk-eagle conservation

While there are no known specific conservation measures currently in place for the ornate hawk-eagle, a number of organisations, such as the Eagle Conservation Alliance and The Peregrine Fund, work to protect and conserve the world’s eagles, conducting research and implementing conservation measures from which the ornate hawk eagle may benefit (9) (10).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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For further information on the conservation of eagles see:

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A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (June, 2007)
  4. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  5. Hilty, S.L. and Brown, B. (1986) A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  6. Ferguson-Lees, J., Christie, D.A., Franklin, K., Mead, D. and Burton, P. (2001) Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
  7. Klein, B.C., Harper, L.H., Bierregaard, R.O. and Powell, G.V.N. (1988) The nesting and feeding behavior of the ornate hawk-eagle near Manaus, Brazil. The Condor, 90(1): 239 - 241.
  8. Schlesinger, V. (2001) Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  9. The Peregrine Fund (November, 2008)
  10. Eagle Conservation Alliance (November, 2008)

Image credit

Adult ornate hawk-eagle  
Adult ornate hawk-eagle

© Patricio Robles Gil / Sierra Madre

Sierra Madre
Agrupación Sierra Madre, SC
Av. 1 de Mayo # 249
San Pedro de los Pinos
México DF
Tel: (5255) 5611 0158
Fax: (5255) 5611 0158


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