Barred Hawk: The Ultimate Guide

Please welcome the Barred Hawk (Morphnarchus princeps). Found in Costa Rica, Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru, this bird of prey usually frequents moist montane forests, heavily forested foothills, and sometimes lower inclines.

More often than not, the Barred hawk dwells between 900 and 1,600 meters of elevation. 

This superlative bird feeds on a range of vertebrates as well as large insects. Its nest structures are constructed from sticks and leaves, usually located on rocky ledges surrounded by vegetation. However, some have observed the nests on different trees. 

Threatened by habitat destruction, the Barred hawk has seen a dramatic decline in populations over recent years. However, the species is thankfully not currently globally threatened.

To find out everything you need to know about the Barred hawk, continue reading as we delve into the life of these magnificent creatures. We will be finding out about its habitat, its lifespan, and even what the bird’s poop looks like. You heard it here first!


The Barred hawk is a medium-sized raptor. However, it is still a rather bulky bird with a short tail and rounded, broad wings. The adults have a slaty black-greyish color to their entire upperparts that extend to their heads, throats, and upper breast.

Their lower breast, underparts, and underwings are covered in white feathers with a finely barred dark grey to black hue. 

The trailing edge of the Barred hawk is also blackish while the tail itself is black with only one white band. Nonetheless, there are some distinct traces of another slight band on their undertail. 

As the bird flies, their dark head and upper breast contrast beautifully with their pale underparts. These also look unbarred from a distance. 

Their bills have a dark bluey-grey color and the cere is grey with yellow-orange hints. The eyes are dark brown and surrounded by a narrow yellow-range eyering.

The loral area of the bird is also similar. Their legs and feet have a yellow-orange color to them with black talons.

Male Vs Female  

Male and females have almost identical plumage but the females appear darker. Moreover, females tend to be slightly larger than males, usually by about 4%.

They are often compared to Black-chested Buzzard eagles who have a similar appearance, for both males and females. 

The female Barred hawk, which shows sexual dimorphism, has a wing length of 351 – 388 mm (13.8 – 15.3”) while the males measure around 347 – 367 mm (13.7 – 14.4”).

Are They Aggressive?

The Barred hawk is thought to be pretty sedentary. They hunt from perches and sit silently and motionless on a branch looking out for prey. But, as soon as they detect prey, they swoop down to the ground or vegetation and go for the kill.

However, they tend to search for slow-moving prey creatures most of the time. They are not known to be aggressive but if humans get too close to a nest, they can become territorial as most hawks do. 

What Adaptations Do They Have? 

Not a lot is known about any adaptations when considering the Barred hawk. However, due to encroaching human settlements, they have had to adapt to different environments to live near human populations.

Breeding/Reproduction Behavior 

Experts have observed the nests of Barred hawks for many years. In a recent study that took place in the month of February, two nests were found to contain one single white egg.

One nest, found in Panama, was situated on a forested rocky ledge, around 30 m above the forest’s canopy. The second nest was found in northeastern Ecuador and was also built on a rocky ledge, around 5 m from a waterfall.

From further studies, it was found that the female seems to lay a singular white egg. She then incubates it, most likely alone. However, the duration of this period is currently unknown.

Once the chick hatches, it is covered in white down and will leave the nest around 80 days later.

Although the breeding behavior of the Barred hawk is poorly known, some observations have described both mates performing different aerial displays with certain sweeping dives.

Some have been seen grasping their talons during flight as they swirl briefly toward the ground.

Their Calls/Sounds 

These raptors are known to soar quite noisily in the sky but are usually in small groups of 4 to 5 birds. 

The calls of this bird are high-pitched. They sound like a scream or whistle but can also make hoarse “whees” sounds as well as “yips”, “dits”, and “weeps.” 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

As they perch, Barred hawks are typically mid to low height off the ground. This is when they are usually on the hunt for slow-moving prey such as frogs, small mammals, birds, snakes, and large insects. 

One survey saw 104 items brought to a nest in Ecuador. 48% of these creatures were La Bonita caecilians while 35% were other types of snakes. Further studies support the significance of caecilians to the Barred hawk’s diet.

They are especially important to their diets when there has been recent rainfall as it appears to draw the prey to the surface of the ground. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Image Source: selectlatinamerica

This species of hawk occurs in wet montane-cloud forests, usually at middle elevations, but this depends on the range. They can be seen in wet forested foothills and lower cloud-forested slopes.

They are especially visible in timbered valleys that lie between mountainous regions. Head toward coastal lowlands and you will rarely see a Barred hawk as they usually frequent sub-canopies and canopies of forests.

They are primarily a Caribbean species found at middle altitudes. Your best bet to find one of these raptors is to head to Costa Rica, Peru, and Panama as well as both sides of the Andes in western Columbia and northern Ecuador.

They typically live between 300 and 2,500 m (980 and 8,200 ft) in elevation but are most abundant in the 900 to 1,600 m (3,000 to 5,200 ft) elevation range. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Most of the Barred hawk’s nests have been found placed on rocky ledges surrounded by vegetation. However, some structures have been discovered in trees. The nests are generally made with sticks and leaves.

A nest found in Panama (mentioned above) was situated on a small ledge underneath an overhanging rock that was surrounded by vegetation. It was made from small branches and leaves and was around 100 cm in diameter. 

Another nest, found in northeastern Ecuador (also mentioned above) was constructed on a rocky ledge, around 5 m from a waterfall. The nest was protected by two vertical rocky walls that formed a corner and it lay around 6 m off the ground.

The nearby rocky ledges were coated in moss and grasses while the nest itself was made from sticks and lined with fresh leaves. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

It is currently unknown how long a Barred hawk lives in the wild. However, estimates have been made considering other hawks meaning this bird of prey may have an average lifespan of approximately 10 to 12 years. However, this could be longer with some. 

What Predators Do They Have? 

Again, more studies need to be undertaken into the predators of the Barred Hawk. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the animal that poses the greatest risk to these magnificent raptors is humans.

With human habitats destroying the Barred hawk’s habitats, as well as the use of pesticides and other forms of poisoning, the bird has seen its numbers rapidly decline over the years.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

As we mentioned, the Barred hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey. The adults sport slaty black/grey upperparts including their head, throat, and upper breast.

Their lower breast, underwings, and underparts are covered in white feathers with slightly barred dark grey to blackish lines. 

Their trailing edge is somewhat black and their tail is black with just one median white band. There are, however, some traces of another band found on their undertail. 

As the bird flies, its dark head and upper breast can be seen against the pale underparts of the bird. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like? 

The question you have all been waiting for! Well, as with most other hawks (and birds for that matter), the droppings of a Barred hawk appear white and in a liquid form.

However, the color is originally brown. The white pasty excrement is actually uric acid, like a mammal’s urine. 

Do They Migrate? 

Barred hawks tend to stay in their forested areas and do not migrate to other regions. They may hunt alongside the edges of forests, however.

Conservation Status 

The Barred hawk continues to be threatened by habitat destruction caused by deforestation as well as growing populations. It’s estimated that less than 10,000 mature individuals are in the wild and this is declining in certain areas.

Nevertheless, the species is not considered globally threatened and is currently evaluated as the least concern. 

Fun Fact

Recent research has found that the Barred hawk’s plumage pattern may result from plumage convergence in forested areas. In other words, they have evolved to blend in with their natural surroundings. 

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