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Unveiling the Beauty and Secrets of the Chilean Hawk

The Chilean hawk, known scientifically as Accipiter chilensis, is a bird of prey found in the southern regions of South America. This striking bird is known for its sharp talons and beak and impressive speed and agility while hunting its prey.

In this article, we will provide an overview of the Chilean hawk, including identification, field characteristics, plumages, molts, and information about similar species.


Accipiter chilensis is a medium-sized bird of prey, measuring around 35-45 cm in length. The wingspan of this bird ranges from 60-75 cm.

The Chilean hawk is sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females can be distinguished based on their physical characteristics. The female birds are larger than males, with brown or grayish-brown upperparts and barred underparts.

On the other hand, male birds have a slaty-blue back and a reddish-brown barred breast. Both sexes have yellow eyes and a hooked beak.



The Chilean hawk is often seen soaring in the sky, and it can be identified by its broad wings and long tail. The birds have a pointed head and short neck, making them easy to distinguish from other raptors.

The flight pattern of Accipiter chilensis is also unique, as they tend to flap their wings a few times and then glide for some distance before flapping again.

Similar Species

The Chilean hawk is often mistaken for other species of Accipiter. The Sharp-shinned hawk is a closely related species found in North America, which can be tough to distinguish from Accipiter chilensis, especially in flight.

The male and female Sharp-shinned hawks are slightly smaller in size than the Chilean hawk, and their wings and tail are shorter.


Accipiter chilensis has different plumages during different stages of its life. When the birds are young, they have a brown or white coloration, with pale eyes.

This plumage is known as the juvenile plumage, and it lasts for about a year. After the first year, the birds develop their adult plumage.

The male birds have a blue-gray back and a reddish-brown barred breast. In contrast, the female birds have brown or grayish-brown upperparts and barred underparts.

These colorations help to differentiate male and female birds.


The Chilean hawk undergoes two molts each year, known as the pre-basic and pre-alternate molt. The pre-basic molt occurs in the summer months when the birds lose their feathers and grow new ones.

During this molt, the birds are unable to fly and become vulnerable to predators. The pre-alternate molt occurs in the winter months, where the birds replace their old feathers with new ones.

This process is essential for flight and helps to maintain the birds energy levels.


The Chilean hawk is a fascinating bird of prey that can be spotted in the southern regions of South America. With its unique characteristics, such as its pointed head, short neck, and blue-gray back, this bird can be challenging to mistake for other raptors.

Its different plumages, molts and distinguishing features help to make it stand out, making it a favorite amongst bird watchers and enthusiasts.

Systematics History

The Chilean hawk, scientifically known as Accipiter chilensis, belongs to the Accipitridae family, which includes other birds of prey such as eagles, vultures, and Harriers. The classification of the Accipitridae family has undergone several changes over the years, leading to the revision of the species classification.

Geographic Variation

Accipiter chilensis has a wide range that encompasses several countries in South America. This bird species is found in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, and a few southern regions of Brazil.

The geographic variation of this bird varies within its range, particularly in its distribution and morphological features.


The Chilean hawk has two recognized subspecies, Accipiter chilensis chilensis, found in the central and southern regions of Chile and Argentina, and Accipiter chilensis tobagensis, found in the coastal regions of Bolivia and Peru. Both subspecies exhibit morphological differences, particularly in size, with Accipiter chilensis tobagensis being smaller in size than the other subspecies.

Related Species

The Accipiter genus includes several other similar species, such as the Sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper’s hawk. These birds of prey are found in North America and share similar physical characteristics with the Chilean hawk, making them somewhat difficult to differentiate.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Over the years, the distribution of the Chilean hawk has undergone several changes, with factors such as habitat destruction and climate change playing significant roles. In the early to mid-20th century, parts of the Atacama Desert and Pampa regions in Chile and Argentina were inhabited by large populations of Accipiter chilensis.

The birds were commonly found in open areas and agricultural lands, where they preyed upon small rodents and birds. With the increasing human population in the areas inhabited by the Chilean hawk, the birds’ natural habitat has come under threat.

The conversion of forests into agricultural lands and urbanization has led to a significant decline in the populations of this bird species. The indiscriminate use of pesticides in agricultural lands has also had a negative impact on the hawk populations, leading to a decline in their numbers.

Climate change has also played a role in the change of the distribution of the Chilean hawk. As temperatures become warmer due to climate change, the bird’s natural habitat in the cooler high-altitude areas becomes less suitable, leading to a shift in distribution towards lower altitudes.

Despite the challenges posed by habitat destruction and climate change, conservation efforts are underway to protect the Chilean hawk populations. The implementation of conservation measures, such as the protection of natural habitats and the restriction of the use of harmful pesticides, has led to an increase in hawk populations in some areas.


Over the years, the Chilean hawk has undergone several changes in its distribution and taxonomic classification, with human activities playing a significant role. As conservation efforts continue, it is hoped that this fascinating bird species will remain a proud representation of the natural beauty of South America and that suitable habitats will be preserved to secure their future.


The Chilean hawk is a species that is native to the southern regions of South America. This bird of prey can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from the dense forests of the Andes, the Patagonian grasslands, and the eastern lowlands of the continent.

Its preferred habitats are open areas such as open woodlands, grasslands, and scrublands, but it can also be spotted in or around human settlements.

Movements and Migration

The Chilean hawk is primarily a sedentary species, meaning it does not undertake long-distance migration. However, occasional movements may occur in response to fluctuations in food supply and climatic conditions, such as seasonal changes.

During the non-breeding season, the birds are sometimes seen in small groups consisting of family members or juveniles. These movements may result in small-scale dispersal and changes in the distribution of the birds.

Juvenile birds tend to be more mobile than adults and often undertake long-range movements. Juvenile birds can disperse from their breeding grounds and can travel long distances, potentially covering hundreds of miles, before settling in a new habitat.

However, once adult birds establish territories, they tend to remain in the same location for several years.

Breeding Behavior

The breeding season of the Chilean hawk occurs in the austral spring, from September to December. During this period, the birds form pair bonds and build nests, which are either built on trees or on rocks.

Both male and female birds build the nest, which is generally made of sticks, leaves, and other plant material. Once the nest is constructed, the female bird lays a clutch of eggs, which typically consists of two to three eggs.

The eggs are incubated primarily by the female bird for around 28-30 days. Both parents then take turns feeding the chicks until they are fledged and ready to leave the nest, which usually occurs after around 4-5 weeks.

Feeding Habits

Like other hawks, the Chilean hawk is a carnivorous species that feeds primarily on small mammals and birds. Its preferred prey are rodents, such as mice and voles, and it is also known to hunt small birds such as finches and thrushes.

The Chilean hawk uses a range of hunting techniques, depending on the type of prey it is targeting. For example, when stalking small mammals, the bird will approach silently from behind and abruptly catch them with their sharp talons.

Smaller birds are usually caught while they are flying, and the hawk will use its impressive speed and agility to catch them mid-air.


Accipiter chilensis is an adaptable bird of prey that has found ways to survive in a range of different habitats across South America, from mountain forests to open grasslands. It is a sedentary species, but occasional movements and small-scale dispersal may occur in response to changing food supplies and climatic conditions.

Its breeding behavior follows a typical pattern for hawks, with birds forming pair bonds, building nests, and raising young. Overall, the Chilean hawk is an impressive and distinctive bird species that continues to fascinate bird watchers and scientists alike.

Diet and Foraging

The Chilean hawk is a carnivorous bird that primarily feeds on small mammals and birds. It is an opportunistic predator, meaning it will hunt a range of prey depending on its availability.

The hunting techniques of the Chilean hawk vary depending on the type of prey it is targeting. When hunting small mammals, such as rodents, the bird will approach stealthily from behind and grab the prey with its powerful talons.

When targeting small birds, the hawk will use its impressive speed and agility to catch them in mid-air.


Like other birds of prey, the Chilean hawk uses its strong beak and sharp talons to kill and dismember its prey. It typically starts by grabbing its victim with its talons, piercing the prey’s neck or spine to immobilize it.

After killing the prey, the hawk will often take it to a perch for consumption. This perch might be a nearby tree, fence post, or even the ground.


The Chilean hawk’s diet consists mainly of rodents, birds, insects, and reptiles. Its preferred prey are small mammals such as mice and voles.

However, the bird has also been known to eat larger prey, such as rabbits and hares. Small birds like finches, thrushes, and doves are also part of its diet.

Occasionally, the bird will feed on lizards, snakes, frogs, and large insects such as grasshoppers.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Chilean hawk is a warm-blooded animal, meaning that its body temperature is regulated internally. It has a high metabolic rate, which enables it to generate body heat more efficiently, allowing it to live in cold climates and high altitudes and maintain a constant body temperature.

This high metabolic rate occurs as the bird has a larger surface area to mass ratio, which helps to maintain its body temperature through thermoregulation.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Chilean hawk is a vocal bird species, and it has a wide range of calls and sounds. The bird’s vocalization includes various types of screams and whistles, which are used to communicate with other birds of their species.

These calls are audible over long distances, making them ideal for finding mates or signaling the presence of food. The vocalizations of the Chilean hawk can be divided into two main types: alarm calls and territorial calls.

Alarm calls are produced by the hawk when it detects a harmful element in its environment. This could be a predator or human activity.

The alarm call is a high-pitched, screeching sound that warns nearby birds of the danger. Territorial calls, on the other hand, are used by the birds to communicate with each other and establish their physical boundaries.

The territorial call is a short and sharp whistle that is repeated several times, typically in a sequence.


The Chilean hawk is a remarkable bird species, perfectly adapted to its South American habitat. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals and birds, with hunting techniques varying based on the prey it is targeting.

The bird’s vocalization is essential for communication and plays a significant role in establishing mate pairs and marking territories. With its impressive speed, agility, and vocal prowess, the Chilean hawk remains a fascinating and highly respected member of the raptor family.



The Chilean hawk has powerful wings and is an excellent flyer, able to soar for long distances. They can fly at high speeds when necessary and are capable of making sharp turns and quick maneuvers, which makes them an effective hunter.

When hunting, they use their wings to hover over open areas and hunt visually, swooping down to seize their prey.

Self Maintenance

Chilean hawks are known to spend a significant amount of their time grooming themselves, particularly their feathers. This self-maintenance behavior helps to keep their feathers in good condition, which is crucial for their ability to fly and hunt effectively.

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic behavior in Chilean hawks is mainly observed during the breeding season and territorial disputes over food. When a rival hawk intrudes on their territory, they indulge in a range of behaviors such as calling out loudly, flying close, defecating or targeting the rival with their talons.

Sometimes the birds attack each other mid-air, using their sharp talons to inflict injuries.

Sexual Behavior

The sexual behavior of the Chilean hawk occurs during the breeding season, mainly from September to December. Both male and female birds interact with each other by calling out and performing aerial displays.

During these displays, the birds often engage in complex aerial acrobatics, such as loop-the-loops, spirals, and dives.


During the breeding season, Chilean hawks form pairs and build nests, which are typically located in trees or on large rocks. Both male and female birds construct the nest out of sticks, twigs, and other plant material, with the female bird lining the interior with grass.

The female bird lays around two to three eggs, which are incubated primarily by the female for around 28-30 days. Both parents take turns feeding the chicks once they hatch, mainly by bringing small mammals, birds, and insects.

The chicks fledge after around 4-5 weeks and leave the nest soon after, but the parent birds continue to feed and care for them until they become independent.

Demography and Populations

The Chilean hawk’s populations are not well-studied, but there is some evidence that suggests that it has experienced a decline in numbers in recent years. Factors such as habitat destruction, climate change, and indiscriminate use of pesticides have all contributed to the decline of the bird’s populations.

However, conservation efforts are underway, and some populations have shown signs of recovery in areas with less habitat disturbances.


The Chilean hawk’s behavior is typical of most birds of prey, with its hunting techniques, territorial behavior, and breeding habits. Its impressive aerial displays and acrobatics are a sight to behold, and its vocalizations contribute to its unique character.

The bird faces several challenges, such as habitat destruction and climate change, which impact its population numbers. However, as conservation efforts continue to grow, there is hope that the Chilean hawk will continue to thrive into the future.

In summary, the Chilean hawk is a remarkable and fascinating bird of prey that has adapted to the diverse habitats of southern South America. Its unique physical characteristics and vocalizations have captured the attention of bird enthusiasts and scientists alike.

Breeding, territorial behavior and hunting techniques are typical of most birds of prey, but the Chilean hawks impressive aerial displays and acrobatics are an astounding sight to behold. Despite the challenges it faces due to habitat destruction and climate change, efforts to protect the bird are still ongoing, allowing populations to show signs of recovery.

The Chilean hawk remains an important part of the ecosystem of South America and a symbol of the regions natural beauty.

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