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Common Black Hawk - BirdForum Opus

Subspecies anthracinus
Photo © by bobsofpa
Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA, March 2004
Buteogallus anthracinus

Includes: Mangrove Black Hawk


Mangrove Black Hawk, subspecies subtilis
Photo © by rb_stern
Playa Blanca, Panama

Length 50-58cm (20-23"), wingspan 122-127cm (48-50")
As the name implies, this is a very dark hawk; dark brown to almost black, with a yellow bill tipped in black, and some white spotting on the base of the primary flight feathers, and at the tip of the tail.

In its limited US range, it is most easily identified by chunky shape and broad white band crossing middle of tail.

Compared with Great Black Hawk, skin of cere generally brighter yellow and extends beneath the eye. Lacks fine barring on the thighs (tibials) which may be present in Great Black Hawk (esp. Central America).

Shorter tail means wing tips almost meet its tip but longer primary projection than Great Black Hawk. Dark rump


Notice the variation: width of the white tail band varies geographically.

Similar species

Further south compare the Great Black Hawk and the rare Solitary Eagle.


Subspecies utilensis
Photo © by Gerald Friesen
Rio Lagartos, Yucaton Mexico, February-2018

Found in coastal regions of northern and north-western South America, incl. Trinidad & Tobago, north through Central America and Mexico, to southernmost USA (Arizona and Texas). Generally resident, but some local movements, and only a summer visitor to south-eastern Arizona. Also seen along border section of Rio Grande River, notably in Big Bend NP, in winter. Very rare visitor to lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Conservation Status

Overall common and widespread. In its limited US range it is rare and local, with an estimated 250 breeding pairs remaining.


Recent evidence has led the population on Cuba to be considered a separate species, the Cuban Black Hawk (Buteogallus gundlachii). However, the Mangrove Black Hawk (B. subtilis including subspecies rhizophorae and bangsi) is now included in Common Black Hawk as three subspecies.


Juvenile, subspecies bangsi
Photo © by xyz99
Peninsula Osa, Costa Rica, February 2009

There are 5 subspecies[1]:

  • B. a. anthracinus:
  • B. a. utilensis:
  • Cancún, Cozumel Island and islands in Gulf of Honduras
  • B. a. rhizophorae:
  • B. a. bangsi:
  • B. a. subtilis:


Wide range of wooded habitats, especially in coastal areas. In the northernmost parts of its range, nests most commonly in cottonwood trees in riparian areas.


Gentle and lethargic except while nesting, when it often drops out of the skies from great height.


They build a large stick nest in a tree, and usually lays one dark-blotched whitish egg. Will abandon nest if disturbed too much.


They have a very varied diet but fish and reptiles are very important to them. Dietary items include crabs, small vertebrates and eggs.


Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2022. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2022. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2010. IOC World Bird Names (version 2.7). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.
  3. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved Feb 2018)
  4. Identification of the black hawks (Buteogallus)

Recommended Citation

External Links

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