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ACCIPITRIFORMES Kites, hawks, and eagles

The information presented here is identical to that contained in the fifth edition of the Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand (Checklist Committee 2022). To access a pdf version of the Checklist click here.

Symbols and Abbreviations
➤ Indicates a species (cf. subspecies)
† Indicates an extinct taxon
BMNH, Natural History Museum (bird section), Tring, United Kingdom
NMNZ, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

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Order ACCIPITRIFORMES: Kites, Hawks, and Eagles

The diurnal birds-of-prey (Accipitridae, Sagittariidae, Falconidae, and Cathartidae) were long grouped in a single order usually named Falconiformes (from Sharpe 1874, Cat. Birds Brit. Mus. 1: ix, 1 – suborder Falcones; type Falco Linnaeus), e.g. Peters (1934), Wetmore (1960), Stresemann & Amadon (1979), del Hoyo et al. (1994). However, the strict monophyly of this group is strongly doubted, as revealed by DNA-hybridisation (Sibley et al. 1988; Sibley & Ahlquist 1990) and karyological, pterylogical and morphological studies reviewed in Holdaway (1994a). This has resulted in the removal of Cathartidae, either to its own order or to within storks to which they are most closely related. Increasing evidence suggests that Falconidae and Accipitridae are not closely related (e.g. Fain & Houde 2004; Ericson et al. 2006). We follow Christidis & Boles (2008) in treating these two groups as separate orders. Within Accipitriformes as so defined, genera, as listed by, e.g. del Hoyo et al. (1994) and Dickinson (2003), are demonstrably non-monophyletic based on nuclear and mitochondrial genome data (Bunce et al. 2005; Helbig et al. 2005; Lerner & Mindell 2005; Griffiths et al. 2007). As a result of these and other phylogenetic studies concerning Aquila, Sangster et al. (2005) transferred Hieraaetus pennatus Gmelin, 1788 to Aquila as Aquila pennata, thereby making Hieraaetus Kaup, 1844 a synonym of Aquila Brisson, 1760. As they restricted comment to Western Palaearctic species, it is not clear what the total advocated composition of Aquila is. However, in such a broadened definition of Aquila, Harpagornis, which was shown by Bunce et al. (2005) to be the sister taxon of Hieraaetus morphnoides and H. pennatus, is a derivative of the common ancestor of all “booted eagles”. Given this, we follow Sangster et al. (2005), Barthel & Helbig (2005), Mebs & Schmidt (2006) and Commission de l’Avifaune Française (2007) in recognising only one genus for the “booted eagles” of the subfamily Aquilinae (sensu Lerner & Mindell 2005).

None of the family-group names in Vieillot’s Analyse d’une nouvelle ornithologie élémentaire (1816) were based on Linnaean generic names (Bock 1994), and so none are valid under ICZN (1999). Accipitrini Vieillot, 1816: 22, while designated as a family, does not provide the basis of a valid family-group name. ICZN (1999) does not rule on names above family-group level, and so Vieillot names are available for such names. Accipitriformes Vieillot may be used for Accipitridae and Sagittariidae. Brodkorb (1964) provided detailed synonymies of all nomenclatorial groupings that have been proposed.

Family ACCIPITRIDAE Vigors: Kites, Hawks, and Eagles

Subfamily ACCIPITRINAE Vigors: Kites, Hawks, and Eagles

Accipitrina Vigors, 1824: Zoological Journ. 1: 313 – Type genus Accipiter Brisson, 1760.

Within this subfamily we include: Milvinae Vigors, 1824; Aquilinae Vigors, 1824; and Circinae Bonaparte, 1838. The taxon Haliaeetus australis (Harrison & Walker, 1973) was deleted from the New Zealand list as it is considered to be based on bones of the Alaskan bald eagle H. leucocephalus mistakenly mixed with bones from the Chatham Islands after their collection by Forbes (Millener 1999; Worthy & Holdaway 2002).

Genus Milvus La Cépède

Milvus La Cépède, 1799: Tableaux Method. Mamm. Oiseaux: 4 – Type species (by tautonymy) Falco milvus Linnaeus = Milvus milvus (Linnaeus).

 Milvus migrans (Boddaert)
Black Kite

Falco migrans Boddaert, 1783; Tables des Planches Enluminéez d’Histoire Naturelle de M. d’Aubenton: 28. Based on ‘Le Milan noir’ of Daubenton 1765–81, Planches Enlum.: pl. 472 – France.

Milvus affinis Gould, 1838: Synop. Birds Australia 3: pl. 47, fig. 1 – New South Wales, Australia.

Milvus korschun napieri Mathews, 1912: Novit. Zool. 18(3): 249 – Napier Broome Bay, Western Australia.

Milvus aterrimus Mathews, 1912: Austral Avian Rec. 1: 128 – New South Wales, Australia.

Milvus migrans (Boddaert); Stresemann & Amadon 1979, in Peters, Check-list Birds World 1 (2nd edition): 297.

Milvus migrans; Medway 2000, Notornis 47(1): 65.

Widespread in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Vagrant to New Zealand with ten accepted records, all of single birds: Marlborough, Aug. 1992, Jul. 1993, Mar. 1994 (Medway 2000a); Waihopai Valley, Aug. 2000 (Medway 2000a) and still present 2015 (Hyde et al. 2017); Glentanner, Lake Pukaki, Mar. 1994 (Medway 2000a); Wanaka, Dec. 1996 (Miskelly et al. 2011); Auckland localities, Nov. 2001 (Medway 2002d); Mercer, South Auckland, Apr.–May 2002 and Mar. 2003 (Medway 2002f, 2003a); Pirinoa, Wairarapa, Sep. 2002 (Medway 2002f); Inglewood, Taranaki, Mar. 2009 (Miskelly et al. 2011); Meremere, Waikato, Nov. 2016 (Miskelly, Crossland et al. 2017); Hauraki Plains, Feb. 2020 (Miskelly, Crossland et al. 2021).

Genus Circus La Cépède

Circus La Cépède, 1799: Tableaux Method. Mamm. Oiseaux: 4 – Type species (by subsequent designation) Falco aeruginosus Linnaeus = Circus aeruginosus (Linnaeus).

Pygargus Koch, 1816: Syst. Baierischen Zool. 127: 32 – Type species (by tautonymy) Falco pygargus Linnaeus = Circus pygargus (Linnaeus).

Strigiceps Bonaparte, 1838: Geogr. Comp. List. Birds: 5 – Type species Falco pygargus Linnaeus = Circus pygargus (Linnaeus).

Glaucopteryx Kaup, 1844: Classfn Säugeth. Vög.: 113 – Type species (by monotypy) Falco cineraceus Temminck = Circus pygargus (Linnaeus). Junior homonym of Glaucopteryx Huebner, 1825.

Spizacircus Kaup, 1845: Mus. Senckenb. Abh. 3: 258 – Type species (by monotypy) Circus macropterus Vieillot.

Spilocircus Kaup, 1847: Isis von Oken, Heft 2: col. 89 – Type species (by monotypy) Circus jardinii Gould = Circus assimilis Jardine & Selby.

Pterocircus Kaup, 1850: Arch. Naturgesch. 16(1): 32. Unnecessary nomen novum for Glaucopteryx Kaup, 1844.

 Circus approximans Peale
Swamp Harrier | Kāhu

Circus assimilis; G.R. Gray 1844, in Richardson & J.E. Gray (Eds), Zool. Voy. ‘Erebus’ & ‘Terror’, Birds 1(3): 2. Not Circus assimilis Jardine & Selby, 1828.

Circus approximans Peale, 1848: U.S. Expl. Exped. 8: 64, 308 – Mathuata, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands.

Circus gouldi Bonaparte, 1850: Consp. Gen. Avium 1: 34 – New South Wales, Australia.

Falco aurioculus Ellman, 1861: Zoologist 19: 7464 – New Zealand.

Accipiter approximans (Peale); G.R. Gray 1862, Ibis 4: 215.

Circus Gouldi Bonaparte; A. Hamilton 1909, Hand-list Birds New Zealand: 12.

Circus approximans drummondi Mathews & Iredale, 1913: Ibis 1 (10th series): 419 – North Island.

Circus approximans approximans Peale; Checklist Committee 1953, Checklist N.Z. Birds: 36.

Circus approximans gouldi Bonaparte; Checklist Committee 1953, Checklist N.Z. Birds: 36.

Circus approximans Peale; Checklist Committee 1990, Checklist Birds N.Z.: 109.

Circus aeruginosus; J. Moore 1999, Notornis 46: 359. Not Falco aeruginosus Linnaeus, 1758.

South-east New Guinea, Australia (mainly north, east and south-west), Tasmania, New Zealand and offshore islands, Chatham Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Loyalty Islands, Fiji, Tonga, and Wallis (Uvea) Island (Marchant & Higgins 1993). A regular visitor to the Kermadec Islands / Rangitāhua, and Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands; a straggler to New Zealand subantarctic islands (Bailey & Sorensen 1962; Miskelly et al. 2001a; Veitch et al. 2004; Miskelly, Elliott et al. 2020) and Samoa. Introduced to the Society Islands. Following Baker-Gabb (1979) and Checklist Committee (1990), we do not recognise any subspecies. Widely distributed on the New Zealand mainland (C. Robertson et al. 2007). Considered to have colonised New Zealand only after human settlement and the extinction of Circus teauteensis (Holdaway et al. 2001, as C. eylesi; Worthy & Holdaway 2002). As it is a recent colonist to New Zealand the former name “Australasian harrier” was discarded in favour of the Australian name, swamp harrier (Checklist Committee 1990). A few very late Holocene bones and numerous midden records from widely distributed sites in the North and South Islands and the Chatham Islands (Worthy & Holdaway 2002).

➤ Circus teauteensis Forbes
Eyles’ Harrier | Kērangi

Circus teauteensis Forbes, 1892: Trans. Proc. N.Z. Inst. 24: 186 – Te Aute, Hawke’s Bay.

Circus hamiltoni Forbes, 1892: Trans. Proc. N.Z. Inst. 24: 186 – Te Aute, Hawke’s Bay.

Circus eylesi Scarlett, 1953: Rec. Cant. Museum 6: 247 – Pyramid Valley, Canterbury.

Forbes (1892) established the names Circus hamiltoni and C. teauteensis simultaneously for two extinct harriers without adequate descriptions, and with no reference to specimens or localities. These names were therefore nomina dubia. Casts and the original syntypes of these taxa are preserved, labelled as such, in the Palaeontology Department, Natural History Museum, London (Lambrecht 1933; Dawson 1958; Worthy 2000), which removes the status of nomina dubia from these names, contra Worthy (2000). The museum catalogue makes it clear that the specimens were the basis of Forbes’ 1892 names (it cites the reference) and identifies their collection locality. Furthermore, it is clear they are synonyms of Circus eylesi Scarlett (Worthy 2000). Following Dawson’s recommendation (1958), both Circus hamiltoni and C. teauteensis were accepted as senior synonyms of C. eylesi (Worthy 2000), and C. teauteensis (for which the right tibiotarsus BMNH A1534 is the only surviving syntype) was adopted as the senior name. Known from several Pleistocene–Holocene deposits and middens widely scattered in both North and South Islands (Worthy & Holdaway 2002).

Knapp et al. (2019) suggested that the spotted harrier (Circus assimilis) from Australia was the closest living relative of C. teauteensis, based on comparisons of mitochondrial DNA.

Genus Haliaeetus Savigny

Haliaeetus Savigny, 1809: Descrip. Egypte Hist. Nat. 1: 68, 85 – Type species (by monotypy) Haliaeetus nisus Savigny = Haliaeetus albicilla (Linnaeus).

Haliaëtus Vieillot, 1818: Nouv. Dict. Hist. Nat., nouv. éd. 24: 101. Unjustified emendation.

Haliaetus Vieillot, 1818: Nouv. Dict. Hist. Nat., nouv. éd. 28: 273. Unjustified emendation.

Blagrus Blyth, 1846: Journ. Asiatic Soc. Bengal 15: 369 – Type species (by monotypy) Blagrus dimidiatus Raffles = Haliaeetus leucogaster (Gmelin).

 Haliaeetus leucogaster (Gmelin)
White-bellied Sea Eagle

Falco leucogaster Gmelin, 1788; Syst. Nat., 13th edition 1(1): 257 – New South Wales, Australia.

Haliaeetus sphenurus Gould, 1838: Synop. Birds Australia 3: pl. 39 – Tasmania, Australia.

Ichthyaëtus leucogaster; Buller 1872 (Apr.), History of the Birds of N.Z., 1st edition (part 1): 16.

Haliaeetus leucogaster pallidus Mathews, 1912: Novit. Zool. 18(3): 248 – Point Torment, Western Australia.

Haliaetus leucogaster; Oliver 1955, New Zealand Birds, 2nd edition: 431.

Haliaeetus leucogaster (Gmelin); Stresemann & Amadon 1979, in Peters, Check-list Birds World 1 (2nd edition): 299.

This entry is based on a specimen in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (NMNZ OR.001341) that was given to Buller by Gould after it was “said to have been procured in New Zealand” (Oliver 1955). This and other sightings of “eagles” in New Zealand were reviewed by Oliver (1955) who concluded that the various sightings may have referred to this species.

Genus Aquila Brisson

Aquila Brisson, 1760: Ornithologie 1: 28, 419 – Type species (by tautonymy) Aquila Brisson = Falco chrysaetos Linnaeus = Aquila chrysaetos (Linnaeus).

Hieraaetus Kaup, 1844: Classfn Säugeth. Vög.: 120 – Type species (by original designation) Falco pennatus Gmelin = Aquila pennata (Gmelin).

Harpagornis Haast, 1872: Trans. N.Z. Inst. 4: 193 – Type species (by monotypy) Harpagornis moorei Haast = Aquila moorei (Haast).

➤ Aquila moorei (Haast)
Haast’s Eagle

Harpagornis moorei Haast, 1872: Trans. N.Z. Inst. 4: 193 – Glenmark, Canterbury.

Harpagornis assimilis Haast, 1874: Trans. N.Z. Inst. 6: 64 – Glenmark, Canterbury.

Hieraaetus moorei (Haast); Bunce et al. 2004, Public Library Science Biology 39(1) E9: 1.

Aquila moorei (Haast); Checklist Committee 2010, Checklist Birds N.Z.: 172.

Holdaway (1990) synonymised Harpagornis assimilis with H. moorei, formalising the treatment that had been in use for some time. Based on a morphological skeletal analysis, Holdaway (1991, 1994a) found Harpagornis to be the sister taxon of Aquila, contra Oliver (1955) who provided reasons for Haliaeetus being the closest relative. Bunce et al. (2005) assessed the phylogenetic relationships of Harpagornis using mtDNA, and obtained data placing it in a clade with a group of small eagles in the genus Hieraaetus, specifically the little eagle H. morphnoides and the booted eagle H. pennatus. Bunce et al. (2005) advocated the synonymy of Harpagornis within Hieraaetus and not with Aquila as suggested by Holdaway (1994a). Following publication of several phylogenetic studies (Wink & Seibold 1996; Wink et al. 1996; Wink 2000; Wink & Sauer-Gürth 2000; Roulin & Wink 2004; Wink & Sauer-Gürth 2004; Helbig et al. 2005; Lerner & Mindell 2005; Haring et al. 2007) a reassessment of the taxonomy of Hieraaetus and Aquila eagles indicated that the species currently included in Hieraaetus and Aquila do not form separate monophyletic groups but a series of minor clades at a level below that of genus. Thus all “booted” eagle taxa, often previously included in Aquilinae, are now widely agreed to belong to a single genus Aquila (see Barthel & Helbig 2005; Sangster et al. 2005; Mebs & Schmidt 2006; Commission de l’Avifaune Française 2007) and, given the genetic evidence of Bunce et al. (2005) and the morphological evidence of Holdaway (1994a), we include H. moorei in this genus.

Widespread in South Island in Pleistocene–Holocene sites and in middens (Worthy & Holdaway 2002). No valid records from the North Island (Worthy 2000). Its range contracted at the end of the Pleistocene so that in the Holocene it was found only in mountainous areas and east of the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (Worthy & Holdaway 2002).