Cuban Black Hawk: The Ultimate Guide

If you live in or have ever visited Cuba, the chances are good that you may have spotted a Cuban Black Hawk at some point. 

The Cuban Black Hawk is, as its common name makes clear, endemic to Cuba and some of the islands surrounding it. 

Despite being largely known by its native country, however, the Cuban Black Hawk, also known scientifically as Buteogallus gundlachii, is interesting in many other respects. 

The following guide is a brief but comprehensive introduction to, and overview of, the Cuban Black Hawk.

Keep reading to learn which features to identify the Cuban Black Hawk by, all about this hawk’s breeding, feeding, and nesting habits, and more!


The Cuban Black Hawk’s feathers are not actually black, but they are a very dark shade of brown that can look black in certain lighting or from a distance. 

Sometimes, patches of gray and white may be observed between the eye and the bill. Additionally, white patches are present near the tips of the wings, and the tail is marked with white and black stripes. 

Cuban Black Hawks are average-sized on the hawk spectrum, typically measuring about 21 inches (equivalent to 53 centimeters) in length. 

Both the bill and the feet of the Cuban Black Hawk are yellow, but the bill has a black tip. 

Male vs. Female 

It’s difficult to distinguish male and female Cuban Black Hawks by eye, apart from the fact that females tend to be the larger sex. 

Other than that, however, there is no reliable way to tell male and female Cuban Black Hawks from one another without a thorough examination. 

Are They Aggressive?

Cuban Black Hawks are not known for being particularly aggressive as far as general temperament is concerned. 

Aggressive behavior has mainly been observed being directed towards other birds or predators, especially in situations where a nest or young are being threatened. In these scenarios, the Cuban Black Hawk is likely to give chase aggressively. 

Aggression towards humans is not a behavior that has been observed in the Cuban Black Hawk species. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The Cuban Black Hawk’s sharp, hooked beak and long talons make it an adept predator and allow it to easily snatch up and tear into its prey. 

The bill of the Cuban Black Hawk is especially useful for breaking into the shells of crabs, which make up a significant part of this hawk’s diet. 

The eyesight of the Cuban Black Hawk, as is the case with most hawks, is very sharp, which enables them to spot potential prey from a good distance away.

This is especially important when it comes to the Cuban Black Hawk because this hawk, unlike some larger species, 

Breeding/Reproduction Behavior

For the most part, breeding season for the Cuban Black Hawk takes place between the months of March and June. In some cases, however, breeding has been observed taking place as early as January.

This species typically copulates at a distance of 15 to 90 meters (49.2 to 295.3 feet) from the nest, usually in a slightly elevated place such as a rock or branch. 

Researchers have noted that copulation sometimes begins relatively aggressively or more gradually, with the male either diving directly downwards onto the female or, alternatively, perching beside his chosen mate. 

Cuban Black Hawks will copulate up to 4 times per day in the period of time leading up to nesting season, in an effort to produce between 1 and 3 eggs per clutch. 

Their Calls/Sounds 

Cuban Black Hawks can emit different calls and sounds depending on the situation at hand. 

The most common sound made by the Cuban Black Hawk is a high-pitched, squeaking note that undulates, growing louder in the middle. 

Other times, Cuban Black Hawks can let out quite a harsh, piercing scream, either as a warning or territorial call directed towards other birds. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

As we mentioned earlier, Cuban Black Hawks prioritize crabs as a source of food. However, it also likes to eat lizards, insects such as centipedes, and small vertebrates such as mice and small birds. 

It should be said, however, that Cuban Black Hawks will typically not target rodents or birds as a first option, preferring crustaceans, insects, and lizards.

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Cuban Black Hawks primarily favor coastal areas in Cuba. The Cuban Black Hawk population is especially dense on Isla de la Juventud. 

Sometimes, Cuban Black Hawks can be found in woodland areas and mountain regions, and these birds are scattered across some of the islands surrounding Cuba as well. 

Most of the time, the Cuban Black Hawk prefers to stay less than 800 meters above sea level.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The Cuban Black Hawk will typically build its nest in mangrove trees, usually amongst the sub-canopy. 

For Cuban Black Hawks, the location of the nest in relation to bodies of water is very important. Usually, this hawk will make sure that its nest is within 480 feet (120 meters) from a flowing body of water. 

They also will not usually build their nests less than 60 to 120 feet (or 15 to 30 meters) above ground, although nests have sometimes been found lower down in the recesses of rock formations. 

Cuban Black Hawk nests are normally made out of a combination of greenery, foliage, and twigs from mangrove trees.

Because Cuban Black Hawk eggs measure 1.5 by 2.5 inches on average, and because females can lay up to 3 eggs per clutch, the nests need to be relatively large. They usually fall in the range of 27.5 to 42 inches ( 70 to 107 centimeters) in diameter. 

The eggs need to be incubated for up to 39 days, and once hatched, the hatchlings will continue to be dependent on their parents for between 6 and 8 weeks. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

It is estimated that the Cuban Black Hawk lives for 14 years on average. This is based on the lifespan of the Common Black Hawk. 

However, these hawks can also live up to 24 years in some cases, so the average is not necessarily an indicator of the maximum lifespan.

What Predators Do They Have?

The Cuban Black Hawk is not an especially large hawk species, which means that it may be preyed upon by larger hawks as well as birds of prey that are higher up in the food chain. 

Eagles and vultures, for example, can be found in the same areas of Cuba as the Cuban Black Hawk, and these larger, more vicious birds of prey can pose a threat to the Cuban Black Hawk population. 

Additionally, various species of snake can climb the mangrove trees in which Cuban Black Hawks perch and nest, meaning that they can potentially attack both the hawks themselves and eggs or hatchlings. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

When a Cuban Black Hawk defecates, it lifts its tail and expels a stream of what looks like white liquid. 

The liquid white substance is actually a combination of fecal waste and uric acid, which is what birds produce instead of urine. 

Do They Migrate?

The Cuban Black Hawk is not known as a migratory bird, except for those that reside in Argentina. 

When the dry season arrives, Argentinian Cuban Black Hawks will migrate to a habitat that best suits their needs because they require a flowing, permanent body of water such as a stream or river to build their nests in relation to. 

Other than this exception, the Cuban Black Hawk is classified as a resident bird as opposed to a migratory species. 

Conservation Status 

While the conservation status of the Cuban Black Hawk is not currently a major cause for alarm, it is still far from ideal. 

The population of Cuban Black Hawks is on the decline, and in 2008, the conservation status was updated by the IUCN from Least Concerned to Near Threatened.

What this means is that, although the population is not currently in danger of becoming Endangered, Critically Endangered, or Extinct, any further decline in population status could lead to the species being classified as Threatened. 

Experts have estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Cuban Black Hawks left in the wild, and some conservation efforts have been launched by wildlife protection groups to help extend the longevity of the species and prevent further decline. 

Mainly, the reason why the Cuban Black Hawk population is suspected to have declined in recent years is due to the destruction of the wetlands that make up their natural habitat. 

Fun Facts 

  1. The Cuban Black Hawk is very similar in both appearance and life cycle to the Common Black Hawk. The main differences between these species are that the Cuban Black Hawk has darker plumage and different tail and wing patterns. The Common Black Hawk is distributed across the Americas, unlike the Cuban Black Hawk, which is limited to quite a small region.