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Return of Bird of the Week: Variable Hawk

Variable Hawk, Intermediate Morph, Southern Ecuador

Variable Hawk, Intermediate Morph, Southern Ecuador

Not all bird species are aptly named. But the Variable Hawk certainly is. The cinnamon color in these two photos is likely the least common color phase, which ranges from whitish to very dark gray. Some ornithologists describe it as the most variable hawk in the world in coloration. At least 27 distinct adult plumages are known in this species. Across all plumages, it has a whitish tail with a strong, black terminal band.

It varies in size, too, ranging from 18 inches to 25 inches in length. The taxonomy of the species is not well understood, either. Currently, it’s treated as a single species, but in the past (and still, among some ornithologists), it was regarded as three different species.

It has an extensive range, too, found from elevations ranging from sea level to 5,000 meters. It’s found from central Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Variable Hawk, Intermediate Morph, Pantnal, Brazil

Variable Hawk, Intermediate Morph, Pantnal, Brazil

As you would expect for a bird with that kind of geographic distribution, this is a generalist hunter, hunting from the air open habitats at all elevations, where it preys on mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects spotted from the air.

For a species as widely distributed as this, it is poorly studied. From the limited work done, it appears Variable Hawks at various seasons and may be variable for all races. They build large stick nests on any elevated structure available, and sometimes breed cooperatively.One to three eggs are laid. The incubation period is 26 to 36 days. The nestlings fledge anywhere from 40 to 74 days. As the sname says; it’s variable.

For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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One Response to “Return of Bird of the Week: Variable Hawk”
  1. Really? says:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, WC. I feel smarter after reading about your research,, your photos are amazing.

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