Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks & Eagles

Steller's Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus ©James Lowen Website

The Accipitridae is one of the four families within the order Accipitriformes; the others being Cathartidae, Pandionidae and Sagittariidae. They are a family of small to large birds with strongly hooked bills and variable morphology based on diet. They feed on a range of prey items from insects to medium-sized mammals, with a number feeding on carrion and a few feeding on fruit. The Accipitridae have a cosmopolitan distribution, being found on all the world’s continents (except Antarctica) and a number of oceanic island groups. Some species are migratory.

Hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and Old World vultures are included in this group. The Osprey is placed in a separate family (Pandionidae), as are the Secretary Bird (Sagittariidae) and the New World vultures. The other bird of prey family, which includes caracaras and falcons, are a distinct and separate group.

The Accipitridae are a diverse family with a great deal of variation in size and shape. They range in size from the tiny Pearl Kite Gampsonyx swainsonii and Little Sparrowhawk Accipiter minullus, both of which are 23cm in length and weigh about 85g, to the Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, which measures up to 120cm and weighs up to 14kg. Wingspan can vary from 39cm in the Little Sparrowhawk to more than 300cm in the Cinereous Vulture and Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis. Until the 14th century, even these huge vultures were surpassed by the extinct Haast’s Eagle Harpagornis moorei of New Zealand, which is estimated to have measured up to 140cm and to have weighed 15kg to 16.5 kg in the largest females.

Accipitrids are predominantly predators and most species actively hunt for their prey. Prey is usually captured and killed in the powerful talons of the raptor and then carried off to be torn apart with a hooked bill for eating or feeding to nestlings. A majority of accipitrids are opportunistic predators that will take any prey that they can kill. However, most have a preference for a certain type of prey which in harriers and the numerous buteonine hawks (including more than 30 species in the Buteo genus) tends towards small mammals such as rodents. Larger Buteogallus, namely the solitary eagles, and Geranoaetus, are much larger than other buteonines and seem to have become avian apex predators of specific habitat niches, i.e. savanna, cloud forest and páramo in South America and are thus honorary ‘eagles’. In Accipiter hawks (the most species-rich accipitrid genus with nearly 50 extant species), prey is mainly other birds. Most accipitrids will supplement their diet with non-putrid carrion but, of course, none specialised with this as well as the 14-16 species of vultures, which have evolved very large bodies (which leave them equipped to fill their crop with carrion), weaker, less specialised feet relative to other accipitrids, large wingspans to spend extensively periods of time in flight over openings scanning for carcasses and complex social behaviour in order to establish a mixed species hierarchy at carrion.

A few species may opportunistically feed on fruit and in one species, the Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis (possibly not closely related to other vultures), it may form more than half of the diet. Most accipitrids will not eat plant material. Insects are taken exclusively by around 12 species, in great numbers by 44 additional species, and opportunistically by a great many others. The diet of the Honey-buzzards includes not only the adults and young of social insects such as wasps and bees, but the honey and combs from their nests. The Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis, Slender-billed Kite Helicolestes hamatus and Hook-billed Kites =Chondrohierax uncinatus are specialists in consuming snails, which usually constitute 50-95% of their diet.

Occasionally, an eagle or other raptor that kills prey considerably heavier than itself (too heavy for the raptor to carry and fly with) will then have to leave prey where they’ve killed and later return repeatedly to feed or dismember and bring to a perch or nest piece by piece. This has the advantage of providing a surplus of food but has the disadvantage of potentially attracting scavengers or other predators which can steal the kill or even attack the feeding accipitrid. Using this method, accipitrids such as the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila rapax, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus and Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus have successfully hunted ungulates, such as deer and antelope, and other large mammals (kangaroos and emus in the Wedge-tailed) weighing more than 30kg, 7–8 times their own mass. More typical prey for these powerful booted eagle species weigh between 0.5kg and 5kg. The Haliaeetus eagles such as Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus and the Ichthyophaga eagles mainly prefer to prey on fish. These large acciptrids may supplement their diets with aquatic animals other than fish, especially the more generalised Haliaeetus eagles, which also hunt large numbers of water birds and are expert kleptoparasites. Reptiles and amphibians are hunted by almost all variety of acciptrids when the opportunity arises and may be favoured over other prey by some eagles, i.e. Spizaetus hawk-eagles and the ‘eagles’ in Buteogallus, and several species of buteonine hawks found in the tropics. Bazas and forest hawks in the genus Accipiter may take reptiles from trees whilst other species may hunt them on the ground. Snakes are the primary prey of the snake-eagles (Circaetus) and serpent-eagles (Spilornis and Dryotriorchis). Apparently, the mammal-hunting, huge and endangered Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi is most closely related to the snake eagles. Another handsome aberration of the snake-eagle lineage (although, unlike the Philippine, has long been known to be a snake-eagle) is the Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, which has evolved unusually bright plumage in adults, with a huge red cere, red feet, bright yellow bill, and boldly contrasting grey-and-white markings over black plumage. The Bateleur has specialised to feed extensively on carrion and almost any other feeding opportunity that presents itself.

There are, according to the IOC, 255 species of Hawks, Buzzards, Kites, Eagles and Old World Vultures in the family Accipitridae. They are:

Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus
Letter-winged Kite Elanus scriptus

Pearl Kite Gampsonyx swainsonii

Scissor-tailed Kite Chelictinia riocourii

African Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides typus
Madagascan Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides radiatus

Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis

Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus

Madagascan Serpent Eagle Eutriorchis astur

Grey-headed Kite Leptodon cayanensis
White-collared Kite Leptodon forbesi

Hook-billed Kite Chondrohierax uncinatus
Cuban Kite Chondrohierax wilsonii

European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus
Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Barred Honey Buzzard Pernis celebensis
Philippine Honey Buzzard Pernis steerei

Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus

Square-tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura

Black-breasted Buzzard Hamirostra melanosternon

African Cuckoo-Hawk Aviceda cuculoides
Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk Aviceda madagascariensis
Jerdon’s Baza Aviceda jerdoni
Pacific Baza Aviceda subcristata
Black Baza Aviceda leuphotes

Long-tailed Honey Buzzard Henicopernis longicauda
Black Honey Buzzard Henicopernis infuscatus

Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus

White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus
White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis
Indian Vulture Gyps indicus
Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris
Rüppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppelli
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres

Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus

White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus

Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos

Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
Great Nicobar Serpent Eagle Spilornis klossi
Mountain Serpent Eagle Spilornis kinabaluensis
Sulawesi Serpent Eagle Spilornis rufipectus
Philippine Serpent Eagle Spilornis holospilus
Andaman Serpent Eagle Spilornis elgini

Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi

Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle Circaetus beaudouini
Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus
Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus
Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens
Congo Serpent Eagle Circaetus spectabilis

Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus

Bat Hawk Macheiramphus alcinus

Papuan Eagle Harpyopsis novaeguineae

Crested Eagle Morphnus guianensis

Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja

Changeable Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus cirrhatus
Flores Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus floris
Mountain Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus nipalensis
Legge’s Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus kelaarti
Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus alboniger
Javan Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus bartelsi
Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus lanceolatus
Philippine Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus philippensis
Pinsker’s Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus pinskeri
Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus nanus

Black Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus tyrannus
Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus melanoleucus
Ornate Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus ornatus
Black-and-chestnut Eagle Spizaetus isidori

Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus

Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle Lophotriorchis kienerii

Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus

Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis

Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis

Lesser Spotted Eagle Clanga pomarina
Indian Spotted Eagle Clanga hastata
Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga

Wahlberg’s Eagle Hieraaetus wahlbergi
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
Little Eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides
Pygmy Eagle Hieraaetus weiskei
Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle Hieraaetus ayresii

Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti
Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca
Gurney’s Eagle Aquila gurneyi
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax
Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii
Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle Aquila africana
Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila fasciata
African Hawk-Eagle Aquila spilogaster

Double-toothed Kite Harpagus bidentatus
Rufous-thighed Kite Harpagus diodon

Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus

Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar

Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates
Eastern Chanting Goshawk Melierax poliopterus
Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus

Long-tailed Hawk Urotriorchis macrourus

Chestnut-shouldered Goshawk Erythrotriorchis buergersi
Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiatus

Doria’s Goshawk Megatriorchis doriae

Tiny Hawk Accipiter superciliosus
Semicollared Hawk Accipiter collaris
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
Sulawesi Goshawk Accipiter griseiceps
Grey-bellied Hawk Accipiter poliogaster
Red-chested Goshawk Accipiter toussenelii
African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro
Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk Accipiter castanilius
Shikra Accipiter badius
Nicobar Sparrowhawk Accipiter butleri
Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes
Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis
Frances’s Sparrowhawk Accipiter francesiae
Spot-tailed Sparrowhawk Accipiter trinotatus
Grey Goshawk Accipiter novaehollandiae
Variable Goshawk Accipiter hiogaster
Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus
Black-mantled Goshawk Accipiter melanochlamys
Pied Goshawk Accipiter albogularis
White-bellied Goshawk Accipiter haplochrous
Fiji Goshawk Accipiter rufitorques
Moluccan Goshawk Accipiter henicogrammus
Slaty-mantled Goshawk Accipiter luteoschistaceus
Imitator Goshawk Accipiter imitator
Grey-headed Goshawk Accipiter poliocephalus
New Britain Goshawk Accipiter princeps
Red-thighed Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythropus
Little Sparrowhawk Accipiter minullus
Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis
Besra Accipiter virgatus
Dwarf Sparrowhawk Accipiter nanus
Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythrauchen
Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus
New Britain Sparrowhawk Accipiter brachyurus
Vinous-breasted Sparrowhawk Accipiter rhodogaster
Madagascan Sparrowhawk Accipiter madagascariensis
Ovambo Sparrowhawk Accipiter ovampensis
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
White-breasted Hawk Accipiter chionogaster
Plain-breasted Hawk Accipiter ventralis
Rufous-thighed Hawk Accipiter erythronemius
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Gundlach’s Hawk Accipiter gundlachi
Bicolored Hawk Accipiter bicolor
Chilean Hawk Accipiter chilensis
Black Sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus
Henst’s Goshawk Accipiter henstii
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Meyer’s Goshawk Accipiter meyerianus

Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus
Papuan Harrier Circus spilothorax
Swamp Harrier Circus approximans
African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus
Reunion Harrier Circus maillardi
Malagasy Harrier Circus macrosceles
Long-winged Harrier Circus buffoni
Spotted Harrier Circus assimilis
Black Harrier Circus maurus
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius
Cinereous Harrier Circus cinereus
Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus
Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos
Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus

Red Kite Milvus milvus
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius

Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus

White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Sanford’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus sanfordi
African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
Madagascan Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vociferoides
Pallas’s Fish Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus
Lesser Fish Eagle Haliaeetus humilis
Grey-headed Fish Eagle Haliaeetus ichthyaetus

Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis
White-eyed Buzzard Butastur teesa
Rufous-winged Buzzard Butastur liventer
Grey-faced Buzzard Butastur indicus

Mississippi Kite Ictinia mississippiensis
Plumbeous Kite Ictinia plumbea

Black-collared Hawk Busarellus nigricollis

Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis

Slender-billed Kite Helicolestes hamatus

Crane Hawk Geranospiza caerulescens

Plumbeous Hawk Cryptoleucopteryx plumbea

Slate-colored Hawk Buteogallus schistaceus
Common Black Hawk Buteogallus anthracinus
Cuban Black Hawk Buteogallus gundlachii
Rufous Crab Hawk Buteogallus aequinoctialis
Savanna Hawk Buteogallus meridionalis
White-necked Hawk Buteogallus lacernulatus
Great Black Hawk Buteogallus urubitinga
Solitary Eagle Buteogallus solitarius
Chaco Eagle Buteogallus coronatus

Barred Hawk Morphnarchus princeps

Roadside Hawk Rupornis magnirostris

Harris’s Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
White-rumped Hawk Parabuteo leucorrhous

White-tailed Hawk Geranoaetus albicaudatus
Variable Hawk Geranoaetus polyosoma
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle Geranoaetus melanoleucus

Mantled Hawk Pseudastur polionotus
White Hawk Pseudastur albicollis
Grey-backed Hawk Pseudastur occidentalis

Semiplumbeous Hawk Leucopternis semiplumbeus
Black-faced Hawk Leucopternis melanops
White-browed Hawk Leucopternis kuhli

Grey Hawk Buteo plagiatus
Grey-lined Hawk Buteo nitidus
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
Ridgway’s Hawk Buteo ridgwayi
Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus
White-throated Hawk Buteo albigula
Short-tailed Hawk Buteo brachyurus
Hawaiian Hawk Buteo solitarius
Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni
Galapagos Hawk Buteo galapagoensis
Zone-tailed Hawk Buteo albonotatus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Rufous-tailed Hawk Buteo ventralis
Ferruginous Hawk Buteo regalis
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius
Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus
Himalayan Buzzard Buteo burmanicus
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus
Cape Verde Buzzard Buteo bannermani
Socotra Buzzard Buteo socotraensis
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Forest Buzzard Buteo trizonatus
Mountain Buzzard Buteo oreophilus
Archer’s Buzzard Buteo archeri
Red-necked Buzzard Buteo auguralis
Madagascan Buzzard Buteo brachypterus
Augur Buzzard Buteo augur
Jackal Buzzard Buteo rufofuscus

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 255

Useful Reading
  • A Saga of Sea Eagles

    By John A Love | Whittles Publishing | July 2013 | 248 Pages | Paperback ISBN: 9781849950800 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Collins Guide to the Birds of Prey of Britain & Europe

    by Benny Gensbol Illustrated by Bjarne Bertel Collins 1984 ISBN: 0002191768 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • DVD British Birds of Prey

    Narrated & Filmed by Paul Doherty 90 minutes 28 species covered ?17.95 Bird Images DVD Guides, 28 Carousel Walk, Sherburn in Elmet, N Yorks LS25 6LP, United Kingdom http://www.birdvideodvd.com
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Eagles of Africa

    by Johann Knobel | Hardback | May 2013 | Sunbird Publishing | 216 pages, colour photos, colour distribution maps ISBN: 9781920289669 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Hawks from Every Angle ? How to Identify Raptors In Flight

    by Jerry Liguori Princeton University Press 2005 ?35.95p
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 0691118248 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Life of Buzzards

    By Peter Dare | Whittles Publishing | Paperback | June 2015 | 292 Pages | colour photos, colour & b/w illustrations, colour maps, colour tables |
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 9781849951302 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Raptors of the World

    ? A Field Guide by James Ferguson-Lees & David Christie Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead, Philip Burton & Alan Harris published by Christopher Helm in Paperback 2006 ?19.99p
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 0713669578 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Raptors of the World

    by James Ferguson-Lees and David A Christie - Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead and Philip Burton - Helm 2001
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 0713680261 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Goshawk

    TH White - 215 pages, illus. New York Review of Books ISBN: 169874 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Kingdom of the Eagle

    by Brutus Ostling and Staffan Soderblom A&C Black 2008 £25
    SeeFatbirder Review ISBN: 9781408107041 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Red Kite

    By David Minns & Doug Gilbert, SNH 2001 ISBN: 1853970611 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Organisations
  • Carolina Raptor Center

    Website
    A non-profit organization, the CRC`s mission is the conservation of birds of prey through rehabilitation, research and education.
  • Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation

    Website
    Conservation including satelite tracking of migrating birds
  • Hawk Migration Association of North America

    Website
    The Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) is a membership-based organization committed to the conservation of raptors through the scientific study, enjoyment, and appreciation of raptor migration...
  • New Guinea Harpy Eagle Project

    Website
    Our goals are to complete first-ever studies on the little-known New Guinea Harpy Eagle and develop local capacity for raptor research and conservation through student support and training.
  • Society for the Preservation of Raptors

    Website
    The Society for the Preservation of Raptors (Inc.) is a registered not-for-profit organisation based in Western Australia. Our volunteers work toward and support the conservation of Australia's raptors (birds of prey and owls) through wildlife rehabilitation and community education. On this site you will find information about the Society, information on our raptor rehabilitation facilities, the education sevices we provide and how you can become involved in helping our wildlife. We are also in the process of constructing a free, on-line database with information about all of Australia's raptorial bird species.
  • The Orkney Hen Harrier Scheme

    Website
    From April 2003 some fields in the West Mainland will be growing grass as usual, but this grass will not be eaten by sheep or cattle. Instead, as the grass grows matures and withers, voles will be moving in to make their intricate tunnels and birds will find cover for their nests. Some of these voles and small birds will fall prey to hunting Hen Harriers and other raptors. This is all part of the Orkney Hen Harrier Scheme - SNH's new initiative to restore the fortunes of the local Hen Harrier population
  • The Raptor Centre at the University of Minnesota

    Website
    The Raptor Center is an international medical facility for birds of prey.
  • Vulture Rescue

    Website
    Trying to combat the recent severe decline amongst Indian sub-continent vultures
Other Links
  • Accipiters of Southern Africa

    Website
    Dedicated to the Goshawks, Sparrowhawks and related species of Southern Africa…
  • American Bald Eagle Information

    Website
    The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus); our national bird, is the only eagle unique to North America. The bald eagle`s scientific name signifies a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. At one time, the word bald meant white, not hairless. The bald eagle is found over most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. There are an estimated 50,000 bald eagles in the United States, with 80 percent of them found in Alaska.
  • Aves de Rapina Brasil

    Website
    Welcome to the biggest Brazilian website dedicated to raptors. The webmaster, Willian MenQ, is a graduate student in Biological Sciences. He works in conservation and ornithology in the region the northwest of the Paraná, studying raptors…
  • Bearded Vulture Re-introduction to the Alps

    Website
    Agir pour la Sauvegarde des Territoires et des Espèces Remarquables ou Sensibles. Created in 1982, l`APEGE (Agence Pour l`Etude et la Gestion l`Environnement) became ASTERS in 2000. ASTERS employs 32 people and develops three main missions : Management of the natural reserves of Haute-Savoie. Academy of the sites / Studies and expertise. Programme of Reintroduction of the Bearded vulture.
  • Birds of Prey

    Website
    Links, images etc.
  • Birds of Prey in Oklahoma

    Website
    A very good effort from someone doing an eighth grade science project!
  • Hawk Watching

    Website
    Fire Island Raptor Enumerations… rather out of date site but with lots of useful links to Hawk Watching in the US of A.
  • Honey Buzzards in Britain

    Website
    The Honey Buzzard Movement in Britain in Autumn 2000…
  • Perches for Raptors

    Website
    US Dept of Agriculture instructions on building perches for raptors to encourage them into areas as natural pest controls
  • Red Kites @ Rockingham visitor centre

    Website
    For the fourth successive year the webcam running, following the progress of a pair of red kites in Rockingham Forest…

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND