Black Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus tyrannus

  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Ignacio Quintero and Andrés Jácome


Distinguishing Characteristics

The Black Hawk-Eagle is a large raptor that exhibits a conspicuous crest on the crown, of black feathers with white bases. Otherwise the plumage is mostly glossy black. Wings are very broad, and tail is long rounded. The under surfaces of the wings are barred with white, and tail has broad gray bars. Females are like males, but larger. In juveniles the plumage is much paler. The head is a mixture of white and yellowish beige, the breast is streaked black and brown, and belly is mottled black and white. Two subspecies are distinguished, differing in size and the pattern of barring.

Similar Species

The distribution of the Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) overlaps very broadly with that of the Black Hawk-Eagle, except for the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador, where the Black Hawk-Eagle does not occur. The flight profile of Spizaetus ornatus resembles that of S. tyrannus, but tyrannus has a much darker plumage.

Also, no other blackish raptor shows such a conspicuous boldly banding on the underside of the wings, as well as the checkered flight feathers, and the obvious rounded wings swept forward narrowed at rear base (Hilty and Brown 1986, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). Dark morph Hook-billed Kites (Chondrohierax uncinatus) have somewhat similar flight patterns and profile (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001), but are much smaller, and the under surfaces of the wings are much blacker.

Detailed Description

Adult: Sexes similar, although the female is larger. Plumage overall silky black. Feathers of occipital crest black, with white bases. Wings are very broad; undersides of primaries and secondaries with wide white bars, and the underwing coverts also extensively marked with white. Tail is rounded and long, with brownish gray tips and three wide bands across the tail. Feathered tarsi and thighs narrowly barred white.

Juvenile: Forehead, throat, tips of crest feathers and supercilium white. Head is also white and yellowish-beige. Breast is streaked black and brown,; belly mottled black and white.

Immature: Upperparts brownish black with whitish mottling, with white throat and eyestripe, and blackish cheeks. Underparts buffy white and heavily streaked blackish, while its flanks and sides are solid blackish. Abdomen and thighs barred with black.


No information.

Bare Parts

Iris: bright orange or golden yellow

Bill: blue-black; cere slaty

Tarsi and toes: tarsi feathered; toes yellow

Data primarily from Wetmore (1965).


Female are similar to males, but they are larger.

Total length: 57-68 cm (Wetmore 1965), 58-71 cm (Bierregaard 1994), 64-71 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986)

Wingspan: 140 cm (Bierregaard 1994)

Linear measurements (mm) of Spizaetus tyrannus serus (Wetmore 1965)
       wing     tail  culmen from cere tarsus
 male mean    378.2    302.8  28.4  82.0
  range (n=5) 371-383 291-312  27.3-30.2  78.1-86.0
  female mean    391.2    303  30.0  87.9
  range (n=3, except for wing) 390-393 (n=2) 296-311  29.5-30.2 84.6-92.0
Comparison of the two subspecies of Spizaetus tyrannus (Blake 1977)
     wing  tail
 male serus  mean  380.2  309.2
   range (n=11)  354-401 291-325
   tyrannus mean  398.3 366
   range (n=?)  362-422  365-367
 female serus mean  400.4  320.1
   range (n=8)  353-445  289-386
  tyrannus mean  443.7  388.8
   range (n=?)  428-460 370-405

Mass: male, 950 g; female, 1120 g (Bierregaard 1994)

Recommended Citation

Quintero, I. and A. Jácome (2011). Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.