The Great Black Hawk
Hawks, kites and eagles all fall into a category known as Accipitridae, a family of 217 species. They all seem to have a few things in common; strong feet with hooked claws, strong flyers and are large birds of prey.
The Black Hawk around the Cocal on Ambergris Caye where I live, seems to defy identification.
I first noticed one in 1992 when two vacationing birders with scopes called me over to have a look at what they called a `black eagle' perched in a gumbo limbo tree.
They failed to find it in the field guide, so decided it must be a Black Hawk but big and with confusing leg markings.
The field guides I have say the solitary eagle (Black Eagle) is rare and found in the mountains, and is a little larger but it seems to fit the description well….except for the mountains.
The Ambergris bird is black with raptor claws and a sharp hooked bill. This month I got a close look when he landed atop my beach palapa to eat a crab he picked up.
Bubba and I got comfortable in our beach chairs with my binoculars and watched a large black bird with the same eagle profile I've been looking at on the green money all my life.
It had a deep yellow color at the base of its hooked bill that was black on the end. It had thick, swept back, black feathers with a white scallop pattern half way down its deep yellow legs and feet. It looked around cautiously with amber eyes and as he flew away, he displayed a single, distinctive, white bar fanned across his tail.
Peterson in his 1908 Mexican Field Guide pictures included the pattern on its legs and calls it the Great Black Hawk.
The nests and the habits of the Ambergris bird are very similar to the Osprey; however I see it more interested in the terrestrial feeding territory of the Islands littoral forest rather than fishing in front of the Island like the Osprey. Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles and Skutch gave me my best clue. It says the Solitary Eagle has dark iris and the Common Black Hawk has brown, but then it concedes that there may be a separate species called the Mangrove Black Hawk (Buteo gallus subtilis) that may live on the Caribbean coast but is uncertain.
I'm willing to call it the `Mangrove Black Hawk'. I'll keep watching for a better I.D.
Stiles and Skutch say, "We encourage further study of this problem!"