The white hawk (Pseudastur albicollis) is a bird of prey breeding in the tropical New World of the family Accipitridae. Though it is commonly placed in the subfamily Buteoninae, the validity of this group is doubtful and currently under review.
The adult white hawk ranges from 46–56 cm (18–22 in) long with very broad wings and has a white head, body and underwings. The upper wings are black, and the very short tail is black with a broad white band. The bill is black and the legs are yellow.
The sexes are similar, but females are larger and heavier—840 g (1.85 lb) compared to the male's 650 g (1.43 lb). Immature birds have extensive black spotting on the upperparts and dark-streaked whitish underparts.
The call of the white hawk is a plaintive kerwee.
There are four subspecies:
- Entirely white, except for black markings on the outer primaries, and a black sub-terminal tail bar. The eyes are yellow.
- Similar to ghiesbreghti but with more distinct black markings on the wings and tail. The eyes are brown.
- Wing feathers are more heavily marked with black, and it has black streaks on the crown and collar. The tail band is broader and the eyes are brown.
- Pseudastur albicollis albicollis – Northern Colombia and central Venezuela to Brazil.
- Smaller than the northern forms and the wings are mostly black, with white markings. The black tail band extends to the base of the tail and the eyes are brown.
The white hawk was described by John Latham: in English (1787) as the "white-necked falcon", and in Latin (1790) as Falco albicollis, with locality "Cayenne". Around 1850, Edward Blyth created the genus Pseudaster, with "Falco pæcilonotus Cuvier" as the type and "F.skotopterus Pr. Max." as a synonym. In his Genera of Birds, Gray treats them both as Buteos, listing B. albicollis in the main text and B. pæcilonotus in the index.
Peters' influential 1931 checklist placed the white hawk in Kaup's genus Leucopternis, listing five subspecies: L. albicollis albicollis, L. a. ghiesbrechti, L. a. costaricensis, L. a. occidentalis, and L. a. polionota. During the 20th century, some authors treated the grey-backed hawk occidentalis as a subspecies of L. albicollis, whilst others recognized it as a separate species.
In the first decade of the 2000s Leucopternis was found to be polyphyletic, and in 2012 the American Ornithologists' Union separated the white hawk and its relatives under the old name Pseudaster.
DNA analysis found that the subspecies P. a. albicollis is sister to P. a. polionotus, and the trans-Andean P. a. ghiesbreghti and P. a. costaricensis are more closely related to P. occidentalis than they are to P. a. albicollis.
Distribution and ecology
This is a bird of lowland forest and other woodlands. It ranges from southern Mexico through Central and South America to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. It also breeds on Trinidad. The white hawk's range in central South America is the entire Amazon basin, from the Andes on the west to the Guianas on the Atlantic on the northeast, and to the transition lands to the south. A widespread species, it is usually not common, but the IUCN considers it not to be globally threatened due to the large extent of its range.
The white hawk feeds mainly on reptiles with some insects and mammals, caught in a sortie from a perch. It associates with foraging groups of tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) and South American coatis (Nasua nasua) to snatch prey startled by these animals. This species is often seen soaring, and has a spectacular aerial courtship display.
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- Latham (1790), p. 36, species no. 81
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