Roadside Hawk Gets Loud and Flashy

Roadside Hawk. Photo from 2014, Finca Cantaros

Roadside Hawk. Photo from 2014, Finca Cantaros


Roadside Hawk displaying wing attributes, January 28, 2016

Roadside Hawk displaying wing attributes, January 28, 2016

When mating season commences, birds compete to show off their best attributes, and to announce to individuals of the opposite sex where they are–by singing or calling out brashly and repeatedly. Sometimes they are not quite ready to mate, but are just practicing for the real action to come later.

If there is no response, of course, the initiator will move on and try its luck elsewhere. Courtship is so urgent and vital that some birds don’t care very much if human beings with cameras are in the immediate vicinity. The tritely-named Roadside Hawk is one of those birds that stays fairly low in the forest canopy or on medium-height isolated trees and is quite “tranquilo” about nearby witnesses to its behavior.

One of the most common hawks visible on our property in the mid-elevation Southern Pacific Zone of Costa Rica is the Buteo magnirostris, or Roadside Hawk. On January 28th around midday at Finca Cántaros a handsome specimen attracted my attention in the backyard while I was eating lunch. I raced out with my camera as it continuously called in what is described by Skutch and Stiles as “an excited-sounding nasal, barking keh-keh-keh-keh”, likely to be a courtship call.

Fluffing mantle and scrapularl feathers.

Fluffing mantle and covert feathers.


Calling for attention.

Calling for attention.

Not only did it call for a quarter hour, but it also performed a stunning display of moves designed to show the strength, number, color, and flexibility of its wings. There was fanning and flapping of wings and raising and lowering of tail feathers—the avian equivalent of a tango dancer. After about ten minutes I heard another Roadside Hawk calling and shortly thereafter the other bird arrived. Adults are identical in size and color, so I don’t know if the performing bird was male or female. In any case, instead of an interesting encounter between the two birds, the talented performer promptly flew off, leaving the new arrival distinctly alone after taking the trouble to fly in for closer inspection. Was it as disappointed as I was?

Bobbing up and down and fanning feathers.

Bobbing up and down and fanning feathers.

In any case, I was there to fully admire the show, and hope there will be more acrobatics and feather-waving displays coming soon to a tree near me.

Note: Roadside Hawks range from Eastern Mexico to Western Ecuador and Northern Argentina.

Reference: A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch. Comstock Publishing Associates, a Division of Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1989, p. 107

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