Ornate Hawk-eagle Spizaetus ornatus


Justification of Red List category

This species is in moderately rapid decline as a consequence of the loss, fragmentation and degradation of forests within its range, as well as hunting pressure. It is therefore assessed as Near Threatened.

Population justification
The global population is suspected to number 50,000-499,999 mature individuals (Partners in Flight 2020).

Trend justification
A continuing decline is inferred from reports of local extinctions, including in northern Peru, western Ecuador and western Mexico; the main drivers of the decline are habitat loss and hunting (Iliff 2020). The rate of decline has not been assessed directly. Since 2001, tree cover within the range has been lost at a rate equivalent to 14% over three generations (25.9 years; Global Forest Watch 2021, using Hansen et al. [2013] data and methods disclosed therein). Even though the species can locally be found in open woodland or secondary growth, it is strictly dependent on vast tracts of pristine forests (Iliff 2020); therefore, forest loss may be aggravated by disturbance and fragmentation. It is precautionarily suspected that the total rate of habitat loss exceeds the rate of tree cover loss by half, amounting to 21% over three generations. The impact of hunting on the population size has not been quantified, but it is here suspected that forest loss and hunting cause a decline in the band 20-29% over three generations.

Distribution and population

Spizaetus ornatus ranges through most of the Neotropics. Subspecies vicarius occurs from south-east Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to northern South America. It is rare in west Colombia, and is also known to reach west Ecuador, but there have been very few records there (del Hoyo et al. 1994). The nominate subspecies ornatus occurs from east Colombia east through Venezuela, where it is slightly more frequent but still uncommon (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Hilty 2003, Restall et al. 2006). It is uncommon to rare in Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Trinidad and Tobago (Restall et al. 2006). The taxon's range extends south through east Ecuador, north-east Peru and north-east Bolivia. It reaches south Brazil, where it has declined in areas of heavy deforestation, and further south to Paraguay. In north Argentina it is also known to have declined (del Hoyo et al. 1994).


This species mainly occurs in humid forest and tall gallery forest (Iliff 2020). It mostly occurs in rainforest, cloudforest and deciduous forest, but also near open areas in llanos, in low swamp forest, tall secondary forest and shaded coffee plantations with native trees (Iliff 2020). It is mainly found in foothills up to 1,000 m in Ecuador or 1,200 m in Colombia, but has been recorded as high as 1,800 m, and elsewhere it is known rarely to reach 3,000 m.
It mainly hunts large prey, especially birds and mammals. It has an extended breeding season, with laying occurring in the dry season and fledging at the beginning of the rainy season (del Hoyo et al. 1994). In Belize, all nests studied had a single young and the incubation period was 44-46 days. Fledging occurred at approximately 80 days (Phillips and Hatten 2013). The dependency period was up to 12 months; therefore nesting occurred every other year, at best (Phillips and Hatten 2013). Nest-sites were occupied multiple years and alternate nests were observed (Phillips and Hatten 2013).


The primary threat to this species is accelerating deforestation in large parts of the range, as forests are converted for agriculture, cattle grazing and infrastructure developments. The species is furthermore hunted and persecuted throughout its range (Iliff 2020).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. At the national level, the species is listed as Endangered in Mexico and Argentina (Norma Oficial Mexicana 2010, MAyDS and AA 2017) and as Near Threatened in Brazil and Ecuador (ICMBio 2014, Freile et al. 2019).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Quantify the impact of hunting and persecution on the population size. In areas of selective logging, carry out nest surveys prior to cutting to identify a sustainable logging strategy. Monitor the population trend. Expand the protected area network to effectively protect key sites. Effectively manage protected areas, utilising emerging opportunities to finance protected area management with the joint aims of reducing carbon emissions and maximizing biodiversity conservation. Raise awareness for the species with the aim of reducing hunting pressure. Incentivise conservation on private lands through expanding market pressures for sound land management and preventing forest clearance on lands unsuitable for agriculture (Soares-Filho et al. 2006).


58-67 cm. Large, brown-and-white hawk-eagle. Black crown and occipital crest, with chestnut on the sides of the head and hindneck extending to sides of breast. Rest of underparts are white.Tail has three greyish brown bars. Yellow legs.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Khwaja, N., Lees, A. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Spizaetus ornatus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/ornate-hawk-eagle-spizaetus-ornatus on 29/11/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 29/11/2023.