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Researchers discover first Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle nest in Mexico

By Alan Monroy-Ojeda

6 March, 2023

The first Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle nest found in Mexico. Photo by Alan Monroy-Ojeda.

In recent years we have entered the last protected tropical rain forest of Mexico with the mission of searching for and conserving the holy grail of raptors, the great Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). To our delight, this arduous search between mountains and rivers brings the opportunity to find other secrets of the jungle. We recently discovered the first nest of the elusive and little-known Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucus) known in Mexico. Fewer than five nests have been reported in the scientific literature, making it one of the least known raptors in the entire Neotropics. A top predator, the Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle feeds on birds such as the toucans, pigeons, tinamous as well as mammals, reptiles and amphibians, which it usually hunts in a spectacular dive from the air.

Researchers Alan Monroy-Ojeda (right) and Jorge Alfonzo (left) looking for Harpy Eagles and other key top-predators such as the Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Santiago Gibert-Isern.

Present in the cosmogony of various Mexican indigenous peoples, this eagle ranges from Mexico to northern Argentina, but is considered rare and/or threatened in many countries where it is found. In Mexico it is listed as an endangered species, and due to its ecological importance is considered a national priority species for conservation. It shares this status along with the other two eagle species in the genus Spizaetus, the Ornate and Black Hawk-Eagle, as well as the Harpy Eagle and the King Vulture. The discovery was made in the Lacandon region in the state of Chiapas, with support from IBCP and in collaboration with Natura and Ecosistemas Mexicanos A.C., a Mexican civil organization that advises and promotes the conservation of communal lands and the training of local people in economic activities compatible with conservation, such as ecotourism and payment for environmental services.

Watercolor by the researcher Alan Monroy-Ojeda made from his observations of the eagle in the vicinity of the nest.

Mexican Harpy Eagle Initiative researchers Alan Monroy-Ojeda, Jorge Alfonzo and Santiago Gibert-Isern are developing a conservation strategy based on the study, monitoring and development of a protocol for its protection in collaboration with Dimension Natural. To date, we can announce and celebrate that the 2022 clutch has been successful, with the first known fledgling to survive in the country. This strategy for the conservation of the Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle has included the inclusion and training of local guides such as Alex Morales from the Tamandúa Camp, who carries out monitoring and surveillance. Continuing the study and implementation of conservation actions for this eagle also supports the conservation of more than 450 species of resident and migratory birds that inhabit the magnificent rain forests of southeastern Mexico.

Tropical rain forest preserved under communal efforts in Flor del Marques in southern Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Alan Monroy-Ojeda.

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