Breeding biology and conservation of hawk-eagles (Spizaetus spp.) (Aves, Accipitridae) in southern Atlantic Forest, Brazil

2017-12-05T09:28:54Z (GMT) by Felipe Zilio

ABSTRACT Neotropical hawk-eagles (Spizaetus spp.) are large forest raptors, having low population densities and high sensitivity to human disturbance. The three species of Brazil’s Atlantic forest (S. ornatus, S. melanoleucus, S. tyrannus) are threatened and little is known of many aspects of their biology, such habitat requirements, nesting behavior, and food habitats. Here I present data about the breeding biology, diet and behavior of the Ornate Hawk-Eagle (S. ornatus; OHE) and the Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle (S. melanoleucus; BWHW), and estimations of distribution - extent of occurrence (EOO) - and population sizes for the three hawk-eagles of the southern Atlantic Forest. I compiled data from nine years of field studies done in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina combined with data from the literature (n = 191 records). I calculated the total amount of forest available for each species by GIS analyses and estimated population sizes based on species density data from the literature. The EOO was 123,551 km² for BWHE, 92,512 km² for OHE, and 67,824 km² for Black Hawk-Eagle (S. tyrannus; BHE). All species experienced more than 30% shrinkage in their historical distribution (before the year 2000). Forest remnants comprise 32% of BHE’s EOO and around 20% for other hawk-eagle species. Population sizes estimated for the southern region were 869 pairs for BHE (1,684 individuals), 1,532 pairs for BWHE (2,849 individuals), and 2,020 pairs for OHE (1,192 individuals). Population size estimates based only on forest patches larger than 10 km² were 542 pairs for BHE (RS = 48 pairs; SC = 494 pairs), 818 pairs for BWHE (RS = 67 pairs; SC = 751 pairs), and 1,178 pairs for OHE (RS = 67 pairs; SC = 1,111 pairs). I recorded displays and copulation of BWHE in July; the nest was built in an inaccessible, emergent tree in the hillside of a valley. Two nests of OHE were found in emergent trees (20 m and 30 m height) measured 138 x 115 x 45 cm and 132 x 100 x 100 cm; one egg was found (64.5 x 51.1 mm). Spizaetus seems to have very variable breeding cycles and begin breeding in the austral winter. I estimated egg laying occurs from July to September with fledging happening 3-4 months later. Diet of OHE consisted mostly of birds (90%) but also some mammals. Individuals of Spizaetus require large, unbroken forest areas to live, and my data reinforce the critical situation of hawk-eagles in southern Atlantic forest. All three species have lost habitat and their distributions have shrunk over the past decades. The estimated population sizes suggest concern and a need for conservation actions. Conservation of large raptors in the Atlantic Forest is not a simple task, requiring the need to preserve and limit the disturbance of remaining forests, establish connectivity among fragments and reduce direct threats to raptors (e.g., persecution). We also need to better understand the ecological requirements of hawk-eagles and establish public policies to protect both species and their habitats.