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Temporal range: Middle Miocene to present
Buteogallus urubitinga NBII.jpg
Great black hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Buteoninae
Genus: Buteogallus
Lesson, 1830

see text


Alectromorphnus Heine & Reichenow, [1890]

Buteogallus is a genus of bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. All members of this genus are essentially neotropical, but the distribution of a single species extends slightly into the extreme southwestern United States. Many of the species are fond of large crustaceans and even patrol long stretches of shore or riverbank on foot where such prey abounds, but some have a rather different lifestyle. Unlike many other genera of raptor, some members are referred to as "hawks", and others as "eagles".

Most of the species have a characteristic tail pattern. This consists of a black base, a wide white middle band, a wide black band, and a quite narrow white band on the feathertips that is often hard to discern or may be lost when the feathers are very worn. Only the white-necked hawk and the rufous crab hawk have a very different tail patterns (see also below).

Systematics and taxonomy[edit]

This genus contains the following extant species, ordered according to putative relatedness:

The solitary eagles (formerly Harpyhaliaetus) are a more inland relative of the "black" group of Buteogallus – in phenotype they are essentially hefty common black-hawks with lighter body plumage and in one species a small crest. Insofar as there are differences in anatomy, these seem to be related to the different prey they hunt (namely reptiles). Together with the savanna hawk, they seem to be close to some species that were uncomfortably placed in Leucopternis. As that genus was apparently polyphyletic, the present article follows a proposal to unite the solitary eagles as well as the slate-colored hawk ("Leucopternis" schistaceus) with Buteogallus, to agree with the morphological and mtDNA sequence data.,[1][2] with the addition of the white-necked hawk, "Leucopternis" lacernulatus.[3]

For a long time various systematists have proposed moving the slate-colored hawk to Buteogallus. Together with the crab hawks and solitary eagles form a sequence of plumage patterns that nicely agrees with the DNA-based phylogeny: the slate-colored hawk looks very much like a smaller, shorter-legged and lighter common black hawk. The case of the white-necked hawk is more puzzling. It is visually and ecologically almost identical to the sympatric mantled hawk (Leucopternis polionotus) and some allopatric white hawks (L. albicollis) but differs in tail color. According to the mtDNA data, it is very closely related to the savanna hawk, which is visually dissimilar, appearing like a very light Buteogallus which has an ochre-grey coloration due to abundant pheomelanins. Either there has been strong convergent evolution in plumage and ecology - perhaps a case of mimicry - between the white-necked and the mantled hawks, or the mtDNA data is misleading due to ancient hybrid introgression. In the respect, the white-necked hawk specimen sampled showed indications of heteroplasmy.[1]

The placement of the peculiarly apomorphic rufous crab hawk in regard to all these birds must be considered unresolved for the time being.[1]

Fossil record[edit]

Buteogallus fragilis fossil

The fossil record of Buteogallus has meanwhile turned out to be quite rich indeed, with many species being erroneously assigned to other genera at first. The genus – like many buteonines of today – probably succeeded earlier birds of prey during the Miocene and never seems to have occurred outside the Americas. From the time of the last ice age, an array of prehistoric species is known, some of them very large. On Cuba, a particularly gigantic species survived deep into the last ice age, but probably not until human settlement.


  1. ^ a b c Raposo do Amaral FS, Miller MJ, Silveira LF, Bermingham E, Wajntal A (2006). "Polyphyly of the hawk genera Leucopternis and Buteogallus (Aves, Accipitridae): multiple habitat shifts during the Neotropical buteonine diversification". BMC Evol. Biol. 6: 10. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-6-10. PMC 1413559. PMID 16464261.
  2. ^ Raposo do Amaral, F. S.; et al. (2009). "Patterns and processes of diversification in a widespread and ecologically diverse avian group, the buteonine hawks (Aves, Accipitridae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 53 (3): 703–715. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.07.020. PMID 19635577.
  3. ^ Bierregaard, R. O., Jr.; Kirwan, G. M.; Christie, D. A. (2018). "White-necked Hawk (Buteogallus lacernulatus)". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D. A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Retrieved 17 April 2018.