Grey-backed Hawk (Leucopternis occidentalis)

Grey-backed Hawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Leucopternis occidentalis | [authority] Salvin, 1876 | [UK] Grey-backed Hawk | [FR] Buse a dos gris | [DE] Graurucken-Bussard | [ES] Gavilan Dorsigris | [NL] Salvins Bonte Buizerd


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Leucopternis occidentalis SA w Ecuador, nw Peru


Members of the genus Leucopternis are small to medium-sized buteonine hawks with short and rounded wings and a moderate length tail. In some species the sides of the head are partly bare of feathers and brightly coloured, as are the legs. P1umage pattern is quite simple; immatures are similar to adults. This large genus is placed between Buteo and Buteogallus, and contains ten species, all tropical American.

Physical charateristics

Medium-sized, black-and-white hawk. Adult has blackish mantle and wings. Grey head and nape, streaked white. White tail with broad, black subterminal band. White underparts. Yellow legs. Juvenile browner above with dusky streaking on mantle. Red-backed Hawk Buteo polysoma is paler grey above with red mantle and narrower subterminal band.

Listen to the sound of Grey-backed Hawk

[audio: Hawk.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

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South America : West Ecuador, Northwest Peru. The species is confined to west Ecuador (Esmeraldas, Manabi, Pichincha, Los Rios, Azuay, El Oro and Loja) and adjacent north-west Peru (Tumbes). Most records refer to one or two pairs per site and, if these fragmented outposts represent “stranded” birds rather than dispersive resilience, viable populations may survive at only a few sites. Notable amongst these are Machalilla National Park, Ecuador, and Tumbes Reserved Zone (now part of the Northwest Peru Biosphere Reserve), Peru, which is relatively secure owing to its remoteness.


It inhabits dry deciduous and humid evergreen forests, but is more frequently recorded in the latter. This species can be found feeding in fairly degraded habitats in the environs of Machalilla National Park. It mostly occurs at elevations of 100-1,400 m, but occasionally as high as 2,900 m.


The breeding season appears to coincide with the wet season (December-April), but the nest has never been described

Feeding habits

It feeds on lizards, snakes, crabs, rodents, small birds and large insects.

Video Grey-backed Hawk


copyright: Martin Kennewell


This species has a very small population, which is declining rapidly in response to continuing habitat destruction. Remaining populations are now highly fragmented and most subpopulations are probably extremely small. The species is therefore classified as Endangered.
There has been extensive habitat destruction and fragmentation throughout its range, with over 90% of west Ecuador now deforested. Clearance for timber and agriculture, and intense grazing pressure from goats and cattle in the forest understorey, have led to west Ecuador’s forests becoming one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Even Machalilla National Park is affected by settlement, cutting, livestock-grazing and hunting.

The Grey-backed Hawk is endemic the Tumbesian biogeographic region of western Ecuador and immediately adjacent Peru. It ranges in semi-deciduous and evergreen forests from 100-1400 m where it soars low over the forests in search of various food items such as land crabs, beetles, katydid, frogs, snakes, lizards and small rodents. Though formerly widespread in the region, due to heavy deforestation and habitat modification its range has been reduced considerably; only 4-5 localities remain that contain any substantial population, the largest of which is in the Machalilla National Park. The Tumbes Reserved Zone of Peru also may harbor as many, although the inaccessibility of this site to date has precluded a thorough census.

Grey-backed Hawk status Endangered



Distribution map

Grey-backed Hawk distribution range map

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