Some of the few captive specimens have been mistaken for the much larger Harpy eagle. This remarkable resemblance extends to juvenile plumage — newly fledged birds of both species have white heads. Crested eagles usually eat smaller monkeys than Harpies, and more often hunt reptiles.
The Black and white hawk-eagle as the name suggests, is a black and white eagle with a small crest that forms a “skullcap-like” black spot on its head. Its head, neck and body are white, the wings are brownish-black and the grayish-brown tail is barred. The cere is orange and the eyes are yellow. The beak has a black tip. The feet are bright yellow with black talons. The sexes are similar, but females are larger.
A top-of-the-food chain predator, this enormous bird is not abundant anywhere in its vast range from the Mexican States of Veracruz and Oaxaca south to Argentina, Bolivia, and Southern Brazil. A specialist in eating sloths and monkeys, it depends on extensive forest, so is considered Near-Threatened due to habitat loss. Females may exceed 20 pounds in weight. Probably kept by Montezuma, it was displayed in Europe as early as 1778. The first successful captive breeding did not occur until 1981. The female displayed at the DWA hatched at the San Diego Zoo.
This beautiful bird has always been a rare exhibit. The DWA has had unusual success propagating this species. Young birds have white heads. Weighing less than four pounds, it easily takes such large prey as monkeys, curassows, and macaws. Like the Near Threatened Harpy and Crested eagles, they prefer building nests in Ceibas and other huge trees, but are more tolerant of disturbed forest and not yet considered threatened.
The biodiversity of New World rain forests is demonstrated by the abundance of eagles that can be found in one place. This species (in addition to the Ornate hawk-eagle, the Guiana crested eagle, the Harpy Eagle and the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle) all range from Meso-America, through Amazonia and beyond in South America. All five are kept at the DWA, the only place to now do so. Also called the Tyrant hawk-eagle, this rarely-kept species has not yet bred in collections. Fertile eggs have been laid at the DWA.