The Pacific Baza (Aviceda subchristata) is a medium-sized hawk that occasionally visits parks when conditions are favorable for its particular hunting style. This article provides an overview of the bird's physical features, distribution, feeding habits, breeding behavior, and presence in parks.
The Pacific Baza has a grey head with vivid yellow eyes and a dark grey to black pointed crest of feathers at the back of its head, which gives it its other common name, the Crested Hawk. The back, wings, and tail are a darker grey, often with a brownish wash. The underparts are pale grey down the throat and upper breast with a white belly, distinctively barred reddish brown. In flight, the under-tail has a cinnamon color, as does the leading edge of the under-wing, a dark band crosses the end of the tail, and the outer feathers of the wing are heavily barred.
The Pacific Baza population ranges from eastern Indonesia, across New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, across northern Australia, and down the east coast. It rarely ventures further inland than the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, and in earlier years Sydney was considered to be the southern limit of its range.
In recent decades, the population has been more regularly reported around Sydney and further down the south coast. The bird is a hunter of the tree canopy and is most often found along the open edges of forests, from tropical rainforests to temperate Eucalypt forests, mangroves, and parklands.
While the Pacific Baza is a canopy hunter that feeds mostly on large insects, particularly cicadas and stick insects, it is an omnivore and will take larger prey such as tree frogs, lizards, and snakes, as well as small birds and their chicks. It will also supplement its diet with fruit if available.
The bird can be seen hovering about the canopy, snatching insects from the leaves and branches, or actively patrolling and crashing feet first into the canopy to catch prey. When some insects are flushed into the air, the Baza is capable of some very acrobatic pursuits.
Pacific Bazas usually breed through spring and summer. A pair together builds a flimsy bowl-shaped nest of sticks lined with twigs and leaves on a horizontal branch high in the canopy. One to four eggs are laid, and both sexes share incubation for about a month.
After the chicks hatch, both parents actively defend the nest site and support the growing chicks, with some evidence that the male plays a larger role in finding food while the female keeps the nest repaired and clean. After about another month, the surviving chicks fledge and become independent.
In the Park:
While only occasionally reported the Pacific Baza is probably a more regular visitor to the parklands, particularly at the times when large numbers of Cicadas are present. This is the best time to keep an eye out this stunning hawk swooping around the trees in our park.
Image credit: David Clode via Unsplash