Ornate Hawk-Eagle: The Ultimate Guide

As you can probably guess from the name, the ornate hawk-eagle is a bird with a huge amount of style.

From the elegant crest to the impressive banding, the ornate hawk-eagle is an incredible sight as it glides around the forests of Central America.

A voracious predator and a surprisingly involved parent, this ultimate guide teaches you everything to know about the ornate hawk-eagle.


The ornate hawk-eagle is a vibrantly decorated bird. Orange plumage can be found on the side of the heads, with a black crown, and a vivid white neck. This flows into boldly barred underparts, and a long, striking tail.

These incredible markings are matched by the impressive crest found on the top of the head. This crest can be raised at will, although it tends to be flat when the hawk-eagle is flying.

Large for a raptor but small for an eagle, the ornate hawk-eagle is an incredible bird to see. Between 22 and 27 inches tall (56-69 cm), with a wingspan of 3’10” to 4’8” (117-142 cm), it has the typical body shape of the raptor.

The weight is variable, anywhere between 1.8lb and 3.9lb (835-1760g), with females being heavier than males.

Male Vs Female

In most ways, the male and female of the ornate hawk-eagle are the same. However, the female is, on average, the larger bird. In most cases, the difference is minimal.

In some areas of Central America, the size difference can be much more pronounced. A female can be as much as 50% larger than the smallest males.

The average size of the male is 24” (60 cm) tall, with a weight of 2.8 lbs (1.3 kg). The average female is 25” (63 cm), and weighs 3.2 lbs (1.5 kg). 

Are They Aggressive?

The ornate hawk-eagle will become aggressive, especially when it’s guarding young. They will raise the crest, and call loudly to put off predators. In some cases, they might even swoop down to attack.

They’ve even been shown to attack humans who get too close to the nest. However, as they become more used to the presence of humans, the ornate hawk-eagle is less likely to become aggressive.

With a sharp talon and beak, an attacking ornate hawk-eagle can be a formidable enemy.

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Life in the subtropical forests of Central and South America isn’t easy, but the ornate hawk-eagle is well adapted for survival. Sharp talons allow it to grip the branches for perching, so they can scan the ground looking for prey.

The ornate hawk-eagle is also able to adapt to changing situations, and the varying habitat in which the species live. The diet, in particular, is changeable. The ornate hawk-eagle will eat what it can find, wherever they may be.

Breeding/Reproduction Behavior

The ornate hawk-eagle spends most of its life alone or in pairs, and courtship and reproduction is a long process. It begins with the male performing for the female, engaging in acrobatics while the female watches on.

Then, they swoop together, and will touch talons in the air. 

A successful breeding will result in a single egg. A lengthy post-fledging stage means that breeding only takes place every other year.

Breeding typically occurs in the dry season, with fledging happening in the wet season. This varies from region to region across the ornate hawk-eagles range.

In Central America, the breeding season is typically between December and September. In Brazil, it occurs between August and January.

Their Calls/Sounds

A surprisingly noisy bird, the ornate hawk-eagle has different calls depending on the situation. As they fly, they give off hiccuping whistles.

This loud and piping sound has a long, drawn out final note, which is distinctive in comparison to other hawk-eagles. While perched, they make an excited laughing sound, which can turn into a cat-like screech when disturbed. 

In the nest, the juvenile makes a regular “peeping” noise to call for food. The male and female of a breeding pair will often call to each other when returning with food. A “pitpit” noise is often made by the male to announce his return to the nest.

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The ornate hawk-eagle is an opportunistic feeder and a powerful predator. Most commonly, they feed on medium to large-sized birds.

Guan and curassow hawks are particular favorites. They’ve also been seen eating small to medium-sized mammals, and even reptiles if that’s what’s available. 

These are predators who hunt using stealth, perching in the trees to monitor the ground below. When they spot something to eat, they swoop low, using their powerful talons.

This ambush style attack allows them to capture some large birds.

The diet of the ornate hawk-eagle varies from place to place. They mostly eat what they can find, and what is abundant in the area. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

Thick forests are the preferred home of the ornate hawk-eagle. They like to perch under the cover of trees, which allows them to hunt for their prey.

The ornate hawk-eagle is primarily found in wet or humid areas, in tropical or subtropical forests. They’re sometimes found in dry forests, but this is much rarer.

Although the ornate hawk-eagle is adaptable to various habitats, it can be sensitive to changes.

The ornate hawk-eagle has a wide range, across Central America and in some of South America, particularly Brazil. They can even be found as far south as Argentina.

This varying habitat means that the ornate hawk-eagle has had to adapt to where it lives. A bird found in Mexico might live quite differently to one found in Argentina.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The ornate hawk-eagle builds itself a large nest high up in the trees. These bulky stick nests have to be quite sturdy constructions, especially as the hawk-eagle may return to the site for the next breeding season.

Often built in the highest tree around, which protrudes above the canopy, it’s easy to spot the nest of the ornate hawk-eagle. They aren’t particular about the tree they use, as long as it has strong, high branches.

The nest itself is quite big, generally 3’3” to 4’1” wide (1-1.5 m), and 20” deep (50 cm). Lined with green leaves, the female spends a lot of time in the nest prior to egg laying.

The female also does most of the incubation, while the male heads out to search for food. The incubation period lasts for 43-48 days. Once hatched, the chicks are very vulnerable, and require a great deal of attention.

Fledgling typically occurs at around 80 days, but it can take as little as 60 days, or as much as 90. Once fledged, the juvenile remains in the nest for months, slowly starting to make trips out. 

A fully fledged juvenile won’t gain independence until at least 12 months old, but it might not be until they’re 15 months old.

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

No one seems to be particularly sure of the lifespan of the ornate hawk-eagle, because they tend to live most of their lives alone.

A long nesting period means maturity isn’t reached until around 2 years, and breeding might not start until 3 years.

What Predators Do They Have?

There isn’t much that would try and prey on the ornate hawk-eagle. A vicious predator itself, they spend much of their life high in the trees.

The juveniles, on the other hand, can be quite vulnerable. Other birds and even monkeys may try to attack. Luckily, the parent birds are never far away, ready to defend the nest against any coming predator.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The feathers across the ornate hawk-eagle are variable colors that give the bird its distinctive look. Perhaps the most impressive feathers are those that are found on the head. Long and black, they form a crest that can be raised and lowered at will.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

No one seems to really know. The ornate hawk-eagle lives most of its life alone, away from humans. As a large bird with a big diet, we can assume the poop is prolific.

Do They Migrate?

The ornate hawk-eagle doesn’t migrate, but they aren’t entirely sedentary. The bird might move depending on the weather and climate where it lives. They’re adaptable to different environments, but prefer to live where they know.

Conservation Status

The ornate hawk-eagle is currently listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN, a listing it gained in 2016. Although it was never found in great numbers, the primary concern is threat to the habitat.

The ornate hawk-eagle enjoys heavy tree cover, and as deforestation destroys their home, they can struggle to eat and reproduce. 

Fun Facts

The incredible crest on the head of the ornate hawk-eagle can be raised and lowered at will. If you see a bird with a raised crest, it’s often feeling excited, or perhaps threatened. 

If you want to see an ornate hawk-eagle, you’re best off checking the skies. Tricky to spot amongst the trees, it flies high in the early morning.