Top Ten Hawks in Turrialba

Costa Rica is host to at least 39 different species of hawks, eagles and kites. In addition, there are 13 species of falcons and caracaras, subject of my next post. Looking here simply at the first group of 39 (pp. 92-110) in Garrigues & Dean’s standard field guide, The Birds of Costa Rica, if you’re birding for the first time in or around Turrialba, here is my list of the Top Ten in terms of frequency of my own sightings over the years.

  1. Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris)
  2. Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
  3. Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)
  4. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  5. Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
  6. White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)
  7. Bicolored Hawk (Accipiter bicolor)
  8. Barred Hawk (Morphnarchus princeps)
  9. Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus)
  10. Gray-headed kite (Leptodon cayenensis)

Please bear in mind that at the lower end of the list there are far fewer sightings and that species such as Black Hawk-Eagle and Ornate Hawk-Eagle are strong contenders for the list. In addition there are several other species that are not included either because they are exclusively passage migrants (e.g. Swainson’s Hawk) or have very restricted habitat (e.g. Snail Kite seen almost exclusively only at Angostura Dam, and Osprey).

Roadside Hawk , by far the most commonly seen hawk in many parts of the country; photo taken at the CATIE canal, Turrialba, by John Beer
Adult Broad-winged Hawk at La Marta, Pejibaye; photo by John Beer

The adult Broad-winged Hawk is easily distinguished from the grey-headed Roadside Hawk if you spot the dark malar stripe. The immature Broad-winged also has the malar stripe:

Immature Broad-winged Hawk at Laguna Bonilla; photo by John Beer

The Broad-winged Hawk is a very common migrant in Costa Rica but some are also present throughout the year. Number 3 on our list, the Swallow-tailed Kite, is generally absent from our area from September to January but is otherwise often seen, especially in hilly districts. Our first photograph shows a bird in flight, since this species is not as commonly observed perched:

Swallow-tailed Kite at the Aquiares Mirador; photo by Larry Waddell

And perched:

Swallow-tailed Kite down south at Casa Botania, San Vito; photo by John Beer

The next species, the Red-tailed Hawk, is also found mostly at higher elevations, where it is often the most abundant hawk species. It is a much larger bird than Numbers 1 and 2. Resident birds are joined by migrants during the northern winter.

Red-tailed Hawk perched at Bajos del Volcán de Turrialba; photo by Sean Beer

The distinctive red belly of the resident race is clearly seen in the next shot of a Red-tailed Hawk flying above the Turrialba Volcano road:

Red-tailed Hawk (resident race) in flight; photo by Larry Waddell

I couldn’t resist adding this final shot of this beautiful species.

Red-tailed Hawk, flying low: photo by Larry Waddell

Smaller than the Red-tailed and found at lower elevations is one of the most commonly observed soaring hawks, the Short-tailed Hawk. We have nonetheless found it difficult to obtain a quality image of this bird in flight. Here’s an individual that perched in John Beer’s garden in Santa Rosa:

Short-tailed Hawk (light morph), perched; the tail is not particularly short! Photo by John Beer

The distinctive hovering of species number 6, the White-tailed Kite, together with its white plumage, makes it easy to identify:

White-tailed Kite (formerly Black-shouldered Kite) searching for prey; photo by John Beer
White-tailed Kite perched; photo by John Beer

Despite being a generally uncommon or even rare species, the Bicolored Hawk is one to look out for in our area. It is about the same size as the Roadside Hawk, but has pure white underparts and distinctive rufous thighs, not in evidence in the following photo. Check my previous posts for a more detailed discussion and further photos of this species. It has appeared in my garden several times, even though it is chiefly a forest bird. It does not soar regularly and can still be found in areas with forest patches.

Bicolored Hawk, grey above and white below; photographed at Aquiares by John Beer

Number 8 on the list is a species that does soar regularly and at times noisily. The Barred Hawk, formerly known as the Black-chested Hawk, is a forest species that I have not observed very frequently in the Turrialba area. Its feeding habits are still poorly known, but its black hood and short tail make it fairly easy to identify, both in flight and, as below, perched:

Barred Hawk showing black throat and upper breast above the grey bars on the white underparts; photo by ?

The Hook-billed Kite, number 9, has been showing up with increasing regularity recently, though I myself have been able to see it only at Aquiares, where it seems to feed on tree snails and is becoming a quite common sighting for John and Larry. The bars on the underparts are grey on the male and reddish-brown on the female.

Male Hook-billed Kite; photo by John Beer

Four species on this list are kites. Fourth and last is the Gray-headed Kite, a long-tailed, small-headed species. It is considered to be quite uncommon nation-wide. The adult’s facial expression is often compared to that of a dove. John was lucky to capture both adult and immature together at Bonilla:

Adult (left) and immature Gray-headed Kites; photo by John Beer

Immatures have two plumage types: one with a brown head and upperparts and the other (as in the photographs above and below) with a white head and small black cap:

No grey head on this immature Gray-headed Kite; a beautiful photograph again courtesy of John Beer

See my next post for the falcons and caracaras you are most likely to encounter in the Turrialba area.

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