Harris Hawk

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Image:HarrisHawk.jpg

Common Name: Harris Hawk
Scientific Name: Parabuteo unicinctus

Size: 18-23 inches (46-59 cm); Wingspan: 41-47 inches (103-120 cm)

Habitat: The Americas; breeds from the southwestern United States south to Chile and central Argentina. They are permanent residents and do not migrate.

They live in sparse woodland and semi-desert, as well as marshes that contain some trees, including mangrove swamps in parts of their South American range.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: Unknown amount of adult individuals. Populations are declining in the United States due to urbanization.

Diet: Birds, lizards, mammals, and large insects. In the Southwestern United States, the most common prey species (in descending order of prevalence) are desert cottontail (Syvilagus auduboni), eastern cottontail (Syvilagus floridanus), black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), ground squirrels (Ammopsermophilus spp. and Spermophilus spp.), woodrats (Neotoma spp.), kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spp.), pocket gophers (Geomys and Thomomys spp.), Gambel's quail (Callipepla gambelii), scaled quail (C. squamata), northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), desert spiny lizards (Sceloporus magister), and skinks (Eumeces spp.). In the tropics, Harris's hawks have adapted to taking prey of several varieties, including those like chickens and European rabbits introduced by man. In Chile, the Degu (Octodon degus) makes up 67.5% of the prey.

While most raptors are solitary, only coming together for breeding and migration, Harris's hawks will hunt in cooperative groups of two to six. This is believed to be an adaptation to the desert climate in which they live. In one hunting technique, a small group flies ahead and scouts, then another group member flies ahead and scouts, and this continues until prey is bagged and shared. In another, all the hawks spread around the prey and one bird flushes it out.

Nesting: While sexes are alike, females are 35% larger than males. 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. Juveniles are similar to adults, except their underparts are streaked with cream or buffy coloration, with the amount of light color being variable. Rufous patches are reduced and dullish. The underwing has whitish primaries that are conspicuous in flight and the tail is crossed with many fine dusky bars, with the base and tip white.

They nest in small trees, shrubby growth, or cacti. The nests are often compact, made of sticks, plant roots, and stems, and are often lined with leaves, moss, bark and plant roots. They are built mainly by the female. There are usually two to four white to bluish white eggs sometimes with a speckling of pale brown or gray.

Very often, there will be three hawks attending one nest: two males and one female. Whether or not this is polyandry is debated. The female does most of the incubation. The eggs hatch in 31 to 36 days. The young begin to explore outside the nest at 38 days, and fledge, or start to fly, at 45 to 50 days. The female sometimes breeds two or three times in a year. Young may stay with their parents for up to three years, helping to raise later broods.

Cool Facts: Since about 1980, Harris's hawks have been increasingly used in falconry and are now the most popular hawks in the West (outside of Asia) for that purpose, as they are one of the easiest to train and the most social. Trained Harris's hawks have been used to remove an unwanted pigeon population from London's Trafalgar Square.

There are three subspecies of Harris's hawk:

  • P. u. superior. Found in Baja California, Arizona, Sonora, and Sinaloa.
  • P. u. harrisi. Found in Texas, eastern Mexico, and much of Central America.
  • P. u. unicinctus. Found exclusively in South America. It is smaller than the North American subspecies.


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume III: Hawks of the New World

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