A great black hawk, native to Central and South America, in a tree in Maine

A great black hawk, native to Central and South America, in a tree in Maine
By now, you've likely heard about the gorgeous Mandarin duck appearing almost daily in New York City's Central Park. Since its arrival in October, the web-footed wonder has become a social media sensation - even though it isn't wild or rare.

While Mandarin Patinkin, as he has been dubbed, has hogged the limelight, a genuinely rare raptor from Central and South America has arrived from out of the blue in Maine.

The great black hawk had never been reported anywhere in the United States before this year, let alone 2,000 miles from home. The young raptor first showed up in Texas in April, reappeared in August in Biddeford, Maine, and then turned up in late November in Portland, Maine.

The crowd-pleaser has been attracting gawkers there ever since, including more than 1,000 in five days.

"This is a pretty huge deal," says Doug Hitchcox, staff naturalist for Maine Audubon. "Apart from being extremely off course, the bird is also visually appealing. Being a large raptor is helpful, but it also has very long legs, making it stand out from anything else in the area."



Then there are the hawk's dining habits. "It has a near-daily meal in the park, so getting to watch it pluck apart a pigeon or rip the flesh off a squirrel definitely helps capture the attention of onlookers," Hitchcox says.

For serious bird-watchers, the great black hawk, with its true rarity and four-foot wingspan, leaves Manhattan's Mandarin duck in the shade.

In terms of rareness, "the great black hawk is at the top of the list," according to Hitchcox. "The Mandarin duck is an escapee, probably coming from a private collector, but it has done a great job at capturing the imagination of many nature lovers."

Hitchcox says the reason no one saw the great black hawk between its stay in Texas and its arrival in Maine is simple: "Our detection of rare birds is probably really low and generally biased towards where people are. This bird could have easily snuck through undetected by taking a more secluded route."

Could it have traveled through the Garden State, perhaps? "Sure!" says Wilcox. "Why weren't any birders in New Jersey looking up when it flew over them?"

Just as likely, people may have seen the great black hawk and not known what they were looking at. After the rare raptor made the local news last month in Portland, for example, people sent in photos of the bird that had been taken earlier, in mid-October, when no one was yet aware it was a rarity.

Hitchcox says the bird should have no problem surviving Maine's cold winter, but adds that "food availability will probably be the greatest limiting factor in this bird's survival."

It's not clear whether the hawk will decide to fly back south to its natural home in Central or South America. Hitchcox says that "anything is possible at this point. The great black hawk is non-migratory, so the environmental factors that instinctually tell migratory species when to go north or south do not exist in this species."

Great Black Hawk range map.

Great Black Hawk range map.