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Species Guide
A photo of a Barred Hawk (Morphnarchus princeps)
Barred Hawk

Barred Hawk

Morphnarchus princeps

The barred hawk, known scientifically as Morphnarchus princeps, is a striking bird of prey with a robust appearance. Its plumage is predominantly black, with a distinctive white tail bar visible from above. The underparts are a stark contrast of black barring against white, with the black throat, breast, and wing quills adding to its bold pattern. The barred hawk's bill is reminiscent of a snout, contributing to its heavy-headed look. This species is comparable in size to the larger members of the Buteo genus, though it boasts a relatively smaller wingspan, which facilitates agile movement through dense forest canopies.

Identification Tips

Adult barred hawks range from 51 to 61 cm in length, with a wingspan of 112 to 124 cm. They weigh approximately 1 kg. Females exhibit sexual dimorphism by being larger than males, particularly in wing chord length. The species is characterized by very broad wings and a short tail, with the wingspan being 2.2 times the total length of the bird. The barred hawk's dark grey body and white chest, adorned with evenly spaced black bars, are key identification features.


Barred hawks inhabit subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. They are typically found at elevations ranging from 300 to 2,500 meters, with a preference for the 900 to 1,600-meter elevation range.


The barred hawk has a broad range across Central and South America, with an estimated population of 10,000 to 100,000 individuals. It is primarily a Caribbean species of the middle altitudes and is found in countries such as Costa Rica, Peru, Panama, northern Ecuador, and western Colombia.


Barred hawks are adept hunters, primarily targeting their prey from the canopy and along mountain forests. They employ both active and passive hunting techniques, either perching silently on branches or soaring noisily in groups. These hawks seldom venture out of the forest to hunt, preferring to stay within or along the forest edges. Their flight is swift and silent as they move from branch to branch, and they typically perch at mid to low heights while searching for prey.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the barred hawk include a repertoire of high-pitched screams or whistles, hoarse "whees," "yips," "dits," and "weeps." They are particularly vocal when soaring, their calls echoing through the sky.

Diet and Feeding

Barred hawks have a varied diet that includes frogs, snakes, small mammals, birds, and large insects. A notable portion of their diet consists of La Bonita caecilians and various snakes. The consumption of caecilians, which are large, subterranean amphibians, is especially prevalent after rainfall when these creatures come to the surface.

Conservation status

The barred hawk is currently classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. This status reflects the species' relatively stable population and extensive range, indicating that there are no immediate threats to its survival.

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Barred Hawks on Birda

A map showing the sighting location
Laura Blackerby
17 Apr 2024 - 2:27pm
Costa Rica

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