harris hawk

60 Fun Facts About Harris Hawks (with Photos, ID & Info)

The Harris Hawk is a bird of prey, also known as the Bay-winged hawk. It is found in South America and Central America and has been introduced to Florida. They live on forest edges, cultivated fields, and grasslands where they eat mainly birds and small mammals.

This article contains 60 fun facts about Harris Hawks with photos that include identification information for this amazing bird of prey!

Overview of the Harris Hawk

  • Identification: Harris’s Hawks have dark brown plumage with reddish brown feathers on the wings and upper thighs. The upper tail coverts are almost black with a white rump and white band on the tail. When looking from underneath, the inner wings and underwing coverts are reddish brown. 
  • Length: 18.1-23.2 in (46-59 cm).
  • Weight: 18.2-31.0 oz (515-880 g).
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.9 in (103-119 cm).
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Parabuteo
  • Species: P. unicinctus
  • Binomial Name: Parabuteo unicinctus (Coenraad Jacob Temminck 1824)
  • Scientific Name: Parabuteo unicinctus
  • Range: Southwestern United States, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Western Europe.
  • Migration: The Harris hawk lives in the United States and Mexico, but it migrates to South America for the winter. They migrate south for wintering because their prey items such as small mammals or reptiles can’t survive harsh northern winters.
  • Habitat: Their habitat includes open country, deserts, chaparral, forest edges and oak savannahs.
  • Diet: The bird’s diet consists of large insects, small mammals such as squirrels, desert cottontail, and mice; however, they also feed on larger prey like great blue herons, jackrabbits, young wild turkeys, quail or dove if the opportunity arises.
  • Global extent of occurrence:  34,100,000 km2  (13166083.6 sq mi.).
  • Global Breeding Population: est. 920,000.
  • Conservation Status: Listed as Least Concern (Population is declining).
  • Lifespan: In the Wild: 10-12 years of age. – In Captivity: 20-25 years of age.
  • Breeding Period: March through June.
  • Incubation Duration: 31-36 days.
  • Nestling Duration: 44-48 days.
  • Chicks Fledge: 45-50 days.
  • Clutch Size: 2-4 eggs. 
  • Number of Broods: 1-3 brood per year.
  • Egg Color: Bluish-white.
  • Nesting Habits: Harris’s Hawks usually breed from one to three times in a year. Females are polyandrous and they may have more than one mate at a time. They nest in paloverde, or mesquite trees 12-25 feet above ground, and sometimes in the saguaro cactus tree. Both sexes help with nest building. The nests are often bulky, made of sticks, yucca plant parts, and stems, and are often lined with bark, twigs, grass, moss, leaves, and plant roots. The female will do most of the incubation, and the eggs hatch between 31 and 36 days. The young begin to hop from branch to branch and examine their surroundings outside the nest at 38 days, and fledge, or start to fly, at 45 to 50 days. It is common for the young to stay with their parents for up to three years.
harris hawk perched
Image by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

Fun Facts About Harris Hawks

  • Harris Hawk is a bird of prey that belongs to the genus Parabuteo. The name is derived from the Greek para, meaning near, beside, or like.
  • The Harris’s hawk can carry prey weighing up to 2 kg (4.4 lb).
  • Harris Hawks live throughout the Americas from Canada to northern Argentina, though they are rare north of Mexico or south of Costa Rica.
  • Harris’ hawks are able to soar for hours at a time due to how lightweight they are.
  • They can fly at a horizontal cruising speed of up to 30 miles per hour, and make dives for prey at a top speed of 120 mph (193 kph).
  • This type of raptor usually lives in open country and grasslands, but they have been seen in more wooded areas too.
  • They eat mainly rodents and other small mammals such as squirrels, rabbits, rats and mice. They will sometimes catch larger animals like cottontails.
  • Harris’ hawks are medium-sized and have a wingspan that ranges from 3 1/2 feet to 4 feet.
  • The male’s mating call sounds like a loud whistling sound, which can be heard up to two miles away.
  • The harris’s hawk is known to have the best color vision of all animals, and they have the ability to see up to 8 times better than humans.
  • A female hawk is called a hen; males are called tercels. The name tiercel was given to the male hawk because they are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male is that much smaller than a female hawk.
  • The Harris Hawk was named by James Audubon to commemorate, Charles Harris an American ornithologist and collector.
  • Harris hawks hunt by watching from a high perch with their acute vision for movement on the ground below them, such as rabbits or mice, which they then dive onto in pursuit of prey.
  • A group of Harris hawks is called a “kettle of hawks”.   
  • Harris’s hawks have an unusual behavior called “stacking.” The phenomenon has been observed in Arizona and New Mexico. The stack typically consists of a single Harris’s hawk perched on top of a tree, with two or three more birds stacked on its back. This is an adaptation for hunting in dry areas where prey may be scarce; the birds’ elevated position allows them to see over large distances for prey or water sources. 
Harris Hawk flying
Image by Kevinsphotos from Pixabay
  • Females may have more than one mate, as polyandry is a common mating strategy in this species. Female Harris hawks often find themselves mated with two males of equal rank. This typically leads to conflict between the mates and females, but it has been found that these fights do not last long, and they typically end up forming coalitions against other male rivals. 
  • The Harris Hawks most common calls are a long low, growling sound.
  • The Harris hawk is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
  • Male Harris hawks have a unique high-pitched “cry” that is often heard near nesting sites.
  • Female Harris hawks are 15% larger than males. Females have longer wings and a broader tail when compared to their male counterparts. This difference in size is due to dimorphism favoring females because they provide for their offspring whereas males don’t do anything after mating with a female.
  • They can live up to 25 years in captivity, while in the wild they normally live to be 10 to 12 years old.  
  • These hawks are found in habitats such as desert, farm land, forest, swamp land, mountains and many other types of terrain.  
  • Harris’s Hawks are diurnal, and they prefer to hunt at dawn or very late in the day.
  • Foraging generally lasts until December for Southwestern United States populations when they return to central Mexico where they spend the winter months before returning north again in April.
  • The Harris’s hawk, formerly known as the “dusky hawk”, or “bay-winged hawk”.
  • In Latin America, the Harris Hawk is known as “peuco”.
  • The Harris’s Hawk is territorial, and somewhat aggressive and will attack those who go near it, or try to harm it.
  • Great Horned Owls, Bald Eagles, Coyotes and Bobcats prey on the Harris’s Hawk.
  • The Harris’s Hawk has been shown to live in small family groups called flocks, where there are at least two birds for each pair of parents.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Harris hawks smart?

Harris’ hawks are notoriously intelligent birds, so much so that they have been used in the past to hunt which is why they were domesticated by Native Americans for this purpose.  Their intelligence is not their only noteworthy quality, though, as Harris hawks also have amazing sight and hearing.

Are Harris hawks affectionate?

Harris’ hawks have been known to be aggressive birds. Studies have shown that when raised by humans or trained from an early age to hunt cooperatively with humans, these birds can be quite docile, but in the wild they are solitary and aggressive.

Are Harris hawks easy to train?

Harris’ hawks are one of the most popular bird breeds for falconry, as they are easy to train and handle. Falconers also use Harris hawks because they can be flown in close proximity to their prey without scaring them off or spooking them. In fact, a skilled Harris hawk is so stealthy that it will even take down its prey without being seen. 

Are Harris hawks good pets?

Harris’ hawks are not a bird you should keep as a pet. They need to hunt and will get frustrated when they can’t find food for themselves. They also can become aggressive and territorial, making them unsuitable for most households.

Why do Harris hawks stack?

Harris’ hawks are a unique bird that often will often stand on top of each other to see farther than they would otherwise be able to with their own eyesight alone. They use this ability in order to get an advantage over their prey and enemies.