Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Details About The Harris's Hawk

  • General Information

    The Harris's Hawk is a boldly marked, tricolored, medium-large buteo with long legs and naked lores. The bill is large: light blue with a black tip. Plumage coloration is a bold, dark brown to sooty black. The bird's upper wing-coverts, wing lining, and flanks are rusty to chestnut red. The tail is dark brown to almost black with white base and terminal band. Eye's iris is dark brown. The tarsi, toes, cere, and orbit are all a striking bright yellow. Harris's Hawk juveniles are similar to adults, except their underparts are streaked with cream or buffy coloration. The eye color changes from dark brown to light brown in the second year.

    Latin Name: Parabuteo unicinctus
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Accipitridae
    Length: 18-24 inches
    Weight: 1-3.5 pounds
    Wingspan: 40-47 inches
    Common Name: Bay-Winged Hawk, Dusky Hawk
    Etymology: para (Greek) - "beside or near"; uni (Latin) - "once"; cinctus (Latin) - "girdled," a reference to white band at base of tail

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    The normal flight of the Harris's Hawk is flap-flap-glide, flap-flap-glide (accipiter-like). The wing beats are fewer and slower than accipiters and glides are longer. When not hunting, their flight may appear sluggish, but they are known for rapid acceleration, agility, and ability to "hug" landscape and maneuver around obstacles. Also, the Harris's Hawk soars at high altitudes and displays dramatic dives. Males are especially agile. Under the right conditions, they may fly backward and hover briefly. Females are more directional in flight and give impression of speed and power.

    The call is poorly studied. However, the alarm call is an angry sounding, prolonged, harsh note that loses intensity, irr or uierr.

    The Harris's Hawk prefers semi-open desert scrub, savanna, grassland, and wetland habitats. Scattered larger trees or other features apparently provide important perches and nest support.

  • Nesting

    This species nests in social units that vary from an adult pair to as many as seven individuals, both adults and immatures. Groups exhibit monogamy and polyandry, and sometimes polygamy. They are able to breed year-round in temperate climate desert habitats in North America. Although most Harris's Hawks nest in spring, some females will lay second and third clutches. Nests are located in almost any tall, sturdy structure. Both breeding members build nest and may have as many as four nests. They will lay 1-5 eggs (usually 3-4) that are pale bluish (rapidly fades to white), plain or with spots of pale brownish or lavender. The incubation period is 31-36 days. The female does incubation; the male supplies female with food, helps with incubation, and chases predators. Auxiliary birds participate in hunts and harassment of predators. Groups with helpers rear slightly larger nestlings and initiate second nests more frequently than pairs. Unrelated helpers may occasionally sire offspring and may inherit breeding territories upon the death of the breeding hawk of the same sex. Harris's Hawks branch at about 40 days of age; males fledge significantly earlier than females. Fledglings remain in the nesting territory for at least 2-3 months.

  • Distribution

    The Harris's Hawk's range in the United States is currently restricted to isolated populations in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

  • Food

    Harris's Hawks employ one of the most sophisticated cooperative hunting strategies in birds. The group hunts medium-sized to relatively large mammals (hares and rabbits), birds, and lizards. Two primary methods of hunting have been observered: 1) sit and wait (often employed by lone hawks); 2) short-flight-perch hunting. Cooperative tactics include the following: (1) surprise pounce - several hawks coming from different directions; (2) flush and ambush - 1 or more hawks penetrate the cover while others watch from nearby perches and attack when prey is flushed; and (3) relay attack - long chase of hares while the lead "chase" position is alternated among hunting birds. Energetic analysis shows the maximum food availability per individual is obtained by groups of 5 hawks, the most common size. They feed in order of dominance; alpha breeding female (most dominant), alpha breeding male, beta male, and 0-4 birds. During nonbreeding season, a group of hawks will guard/feed on a large carcass for more than 36 hours, and cache carcasses.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Circe, a female Harris's Hawk, is named for the Greek goddess best known for turning Odysessius' men into animals. She arrived from Tucson, Arizona, in 2007. Harris's Hawks are pack hunters and are primarily found in the Southwest.

    Cody came to Carolina Raptor Center in 2006 from York County, SC, after being retired from falconry. He is one of the leading members of our Physics of Flight team, teaching school children all about birds and the magic of taking to the air.

    Sonora was named after the Sonora Desert, which covers a large part of the Southwestern United States. She has a band on her leg that allows you to tell her apart from the other Harris' Hawks in the mew. Transferred from her Native Tuscon, Arizona in 2002, she is one of the three female Harris's Hawks that live on the Raptor Trail. Come and see them - maybe you can tell who is the Alpha Female.

    Tracy, a female Harris's Hawk, came to the Carolina Raptor Center from Arizona in 2007. Many Harris' Hawks can be found in places like Arizona and other Southwestern states, as they typically reside in an arid habitat. John James Audubon gave this bird its English name "Harris's Hawk" in honor of his ornithological companion, financial supporter, and friend Edward Harris.

    The newest Harris's Hawk at CRC is Gobi. He came to CRC as a juvenile in 2018, and is currently in training for our flight program. He is named after the Gobi Desert, since Harris's Hawks prefer dry, desert climates.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Harris's Hawks will stand on each other's backs -- called "back stacking" -- when perching spots are few and far between. Brother can you lend a hand -- or a back?

    John James Audubon gave this bird its English name in honor of his ornithological companion, financial supporter, and friend Edward Harris.