The White Hawk, (Leucopternis albicollis), a resident breeding bird in the tropical New World, is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. Though commonly placed in the subfamily Buteoninae, the validity of this group is doubtful and currently under review.
The adult White Hawk ranges from 46-56 cm long with very broad wings and has a white head, body and underwings. The upper wings are black, and the very short tail is black with a broad white band. The bill is black and the legs are yellow.
The sexes are similar, but females are larger and heavier (840 g compared to the male's 650 g). Immature birds have extensive black spotting on the upperparts and dark-streaked whitish underparts. The call of the White Hawk is a plaintive kerwee.
There are four subspecies:
- L. a. ghiesbreghti of southern Mexico to Nicaragua is entirely white, except for black markings on the outer primaries, and a black sub-terminal tail bar. The eyes are yellow.
- L. a. costaricensis is found from Honduras through to Panama and Colombia. It is similar to ghiesbreghti but with more distinct black markings on the wings and tail. The eyes are brown.
- L. a. williaminae occurs locally in north-western Colombia and western Venezuela. Its wing feathers are more heavily marked with black, and it has black streaks on the crown and collar. The tail band is broader and the eyes are brown.
- The nominate race, L. a. albicollis, breeds from northern Colombia and central Venezuela to Brazil. It is smaller than the northern forms and the wings are mostly black, with white markings. The black tail band extends to the base of the tail and the eyes are brown.
All subspecies look mainly white from below.
Distribution and ecology
This is a bird of lowland forest and other woodlands. It ranges from southern Mexico through Central and South America to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. It also breeds on Trinidad. The White Hawk is defined by its range in central South America in the entire Amazon Basin, to the Andes on the west, the Guianas on the Atlantic on the northeast, and to the transition land to the south out of the Amazon Basin.
The White Hawk feeds mainly on reptiles with some insects and mammals, caught in a sortie from a perch. It associates with foraging groups of Tufted Capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) and coatimundis (Nasua nasua) to snatch prey startled by these animals. This species is often seen soaring, and has a spectacular aerial courtship display.
It builds a large stick platform nest in a tree and usually lays one dark-blotched blue-white egg. An attended nest was observed in Ecuador in mid-August.