Skip to main content

Harris’ Hawk (Bay-winged Hawk)

Parabueto unicinctus
Prepared by
Prepared By: Bob Walton

Description: Males and females are similar in coloration. They have dark brown plumage with chestnut shoulders, wing linings, and thighs, white on the base and tip of the tail, long, yellow legs and a yellow cere. The vocalizations of the Harris' hawks are very harsh sounds  Males tend to be smaller than females. Males are 45-59 cm long and weigh 700 g while females are 50-68 cm long and weigh 1100g.  Wing span is 100-120 cm.

Distribution: SW USA through Central America south to middle Argentina
Habitat: Seasonably dry deserts, chaco, savannahs up to 1500 m. In tropics occasionally may be found in marshes and mangroves.
Feeding: The Harris's hawk is notable for its behavior of hunting cooperatively in packs consisting of tolerant groups, while most other raptors often hunt alone. One hawk may pursue the prey while 2 or 3 wait in ambush. Harris hawks' social nature has been attributed to their intelligence, which makes them easy to train and have made them a popular bird for use in falconry. They hunt mostly mammals, chiefly rabbits, ground squirrels and gophers. They also hunt some birds like Gambel’s Quail and reptiles. They hunt mainly from an elevated perch dropping down headfirst onto prey. Often, where perches are limited, the birds may backstand (one bird standing on top of each other, appearing like a totem pole) looking for prey.
Calls: Harris's Hawks have an angry sounding, grating call given on territories or at a kill site when intruders are near. The call lasts for about 3 seconds.
Breeding: Dec.-May in southwest USA. They build a stick nest in trees, cacti, cliffs, power poles, and on man made structures. The nest which may be refurbished each year is usually lined with leaves, moss, bark and plant roots. Clutch size is 2-4 eggs. Breeding usually occurs in third year. Very often, there will be three hawks attending one nest: two males and one female. Whether or not this is polyandry is debated, as it may be confused with backstanding . The female does most of the incubation.
Movements: They are permanent residents and do not migrate. There may be slight movement based on prey availability.
Status: The wild Harris's hawk population is declining due to habitat loss; however, under some circumstances, they have been known to move into developed areas.