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Wild Costa Rica

Photo via the Peregrine Fund.

Wild Costa Rica:

Águila Tirana

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Published on Monday, May 20, 2024
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff and wire services

The Águila Tirana, tyrant hawk-eagle or black hawk-eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus), is a frequent bird in Costa Rica's tropical rainforest lowlands and mountain ranges.

According to the Ornithological Association of Costa Rica, this beautiful dark-plumed eagle is more frequent in humid zones 200 to 2,000 meters above sea level.

Specimens of the bird have been recorded in areas of the humid forest throughout the national territory. Most specimens were spotted on the slopes of the mountains near the Caribbean Coast (Limón Province), the Pacific South Coast (Puntarenas Province), and the mountainous areas bordering Nicaragua and Panama.

In the Americas, the eagle is a Neotropical bird of prey, found from southern Mexico to Argentina.

This stunning eagle spends its time in lowlands and foothills. It can be found in humid and moist forests and gallery forests, a forest that forms a corridor running along a stream or other water source. It also inhabits disturbed forests, forest edges, late second-growth, and semi-open areas.

"If you find yourself in Black Hawk-eagle habitat, one of the best ways to see one is to look up and to listen! This agile bird spends a lot of time soaring over the forest canopy or even in open areas, vocalizing loudly,experts of the Peregrine Fund noted.

The gorgeous Neotropical bird of prey is about 23 to 28 inches long and weighs about 900 to 1,300 grams.

The majestic bird appears shiny, and charcoal-black when perched. However, it is quite a colorful bird. It has yellow feet, legs covered in black and white feathers, a yellow cere and piercing yellow eyes.

When in flight, this eagle is even more beautiful as the striking, barred black and white pattern on its underwings and the gray tail become visible. This raptor also has a small black crest with white edges.

Like many raptor species, the eagle is equipped with a facial disk composed of feathers that form a circle around the bird’s face. The disk can be lifted or lowered at will. When the feathers of the facial disk are raised, they help direct sounds to the bird’s ears, which are located on the sides of its head. To find out how this works, cup your hands behind your ears and listen. You might notice that whatever you are listening to seems louder.

The top predator plays a very important role in their environment. They are those animals that hunt other animals for food but no animals hunt them regularly.  They play an important role in nature by helping to control populations of prey animals and maintain a balance in the ecosystems where they live.

The Águila Tirana is a very powerful and skilled hunter. This prowess allows it to feed on a large number of different prey animals. Its preferred diet is mainly mammals including squirrels, squirrel monkeys, bats, large lizards and large birds among others.

When this medium-sized eagle is on the hunt, it usually moves from tree to tree above or below the forest canopy, listening or looking for prey. Once it spots something tasty to eat, it pursues it rapidly through the air or snatches it from the ground in a surprise attack.

For most top predators, the only threat they face is humans.

To protect the eagles, we must protect the animals they need for food, the plants and animals those animals feed on, and the trees that Black Hawk eagles nest in, which helps protect the other animals that use these trees for food, shelter, and space. "Conserving Black Hawk eagles and their habitat automatically protects all the other plants and animals that live there too,said the foundation in its statement.

The Águila Tirana was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2020 due to its population trend decreasing.

Another amazing bird in Costa Rica is the  "Galan sin suerte" or unlucky gentleman, also known as Jabirú (Jabirú mycteria), which is the largest endemic bird in the country.

Wild Costa Rica is a space for readers to discover more about the fascinating species that make the "pura vidaland one of the world's countries with the richest natural diversity.

What should authorities do to safeguard the Águila Tirana? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to


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