The Semiplumbeous Hawk is a medium-sized raptor about 15 to 16 inches tall. Its back is uniformly dark grey or “plumbeous,” meaning lead-colored. The throat, chest & belly are pure white on adult birds but, on immatures, the chest shows very fine grey streaking. The relatively short, dark tail has two white bands, one at mid-tail which is quite conspicuous and another at the base which is often concealed. The legs, cere and the base of the bill are orange. The underside of the wings is whitish.
This hawk may easily be mistaken for other raptors, especially “light phase” Short-tailed Hawks (Buteo brachyurus), which have yellow ceres (not orange) and do not show broad white tail bands, and forest-falcons, like the Slaty-backed (Micrastur mirandollei) and Collared (Micrastur semitorquatus), both of which have noticeably longer tails.
The Semiplumbeous Hawk uses the “sit-and-wait” hunting technique, whereby it patiently perches quietly about 20 feet high and slowly scans for prey. Another interesting hunting technique employed by this clever hawk is to follow troops of White-faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus). While the frolicking monkeys forage through the forest canopy, they disturb other creatures, including lizards, which are then caught by the ever-vigilant hawk. A rather sneaky technique indeed! Small reptiles are on the menu, including Whiptail Lizards (Ameiva spp.), geckos, anoles and small snakes.
This raptor prefers the interior humid forests of eastern Panama and the Caribbean slope of the Canal. Interestingly, they are seldom seen soaring high like other hawks, but are often spotted streaking across the forest just above the canopy layer. They may be observed perched up on the canopy or lower on an exposed perch.
This resident and spectacular hawk is often found along Pipeline Rd., where the photo above was taken. It is also seen in Semaphore Hill Rd, Plantation Rd or from the Canopy Tower observation deck, usually early in the morning. From the observation deck, if you are quiet, it is possible to get very close to this confiding hawk and possibly steal not only an awesome view but also a drop-dead gorgeous photo!