Raptor Identification

Buteogallus anthracinus

Common Black Hawk

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: Unknown
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation
Group: Buteo or near Buteo (Hawk)
Size: L ~20-22″ / WS ~40-52″


The Common Black Hawk is a raptor of the tropics, widespread there but barely reaching the US in the Southwest and mostly in Arizona. Small populations breed in New Mexico and southwestern Utah, and some birds are found in south Texas in the winter. The Common Black Hawk is generally scarce, and it can be hard to find since it lives along riparian corridors and spends much of its time perched, soaring briefly only in the mornings. It preys mainly on amphibians, reptiles, and fish, which are spotted from a low perch along a stream. They even wade in shallow water! The Common Black Hawk’s call is similar to the Osprey, giving a series of short whistles, rising at the end, “whi-whi-whi-whi-whée whée whée.”

The Common Black Hawk is distinctive but can be confused with a Black Vulture in flight and a Zone-tailed Hawk when perched. Black Vultures share a similar shape, but has pale outer primaries, narrow-based black tail lacking a white band, a smaller naked head, and flies with wings held slightly above the body. Common Black Hawks closely match the Zone-tailed Hawk in plumage, but their shape in flight couldn’t be more different. Common Black Hawks have a stocky build, with broad wings and a short tail, while Zone-tailed Hawks are lengthy, with long, narrow wings and a long tail. When perched, they are quite similar, but Common Black Hawks have longer legs, bare yellow facial skin, and a less sharply hooked bill. When perched, note that the Common Black Hawk’s wing tips nearly reach the tail tip, whereas the wingtips of a Zone-tailed Hawk wall short of the tail tip.


  • Large (~size of a Red-tailed Hawk) and distinctive, with wide wings and a short tail more similar to a Black Vulture than any buteo
  • 1st-year has narrower wings and longer tail, more buteo-like than adults. The shape difference between 1st-year and adult is the most dramatic age-related difference of any North American raptor.
  • When perched, appears bulky; wing trips nearly reach tail tip, especially on adults. Bill is less sharply curved than on most other raptors.


  • Soars on flat wings in wide, steady circles.
  • Direct flight is lumbering, with loose but somewhat quick wing beats.


  • Shows two plumages, adult and 1st-year. Sexes are similar, Black Hawk attains adult plumage by the second fall.
  • Adults are black below with finely banded flight feathers, a broad black edge to the wings, and a bold, white band at the base of the tail. The upperside is blackish. Cere and bare skin in front of the eye are pale.
  • 1st-year birds are dark-streaked below with finely banded flight feathers and a bold face pattern. The tail has multiple wavy, white bands and black tip. The upperwings are brownish-black, with pale inner primaries visible from above and below.

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