Photo: Greg Lasley/Vireo

Harris's Hawk

Parabuteo unicinctus

This strikingly patterned southwestern hawk is more sociable than most birds of prey. It is often seen in groups of three or more, the birds perching close together on poles or giant cactus. It may seem lethargic or tame when perched, allowing close approach; when hunting, however, it is dashing and powerful, pursuing prey in agile flight even through dense brush. Two or more Harris's Hawks may hunt cooperatively, working together to chase prey into the open.
Conservation status Has disappeared from some former areas, such as lower Colorado River Valley; some attempts have been made to reintroduce the species. In the past, it was threatened in some areas by illegal taking for falconry.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat River woods, mesquite, brush, cactus deserts. Found mostly in open dry country. Most common in saguaro cactus desert in Arizona, in mesquite brushland in Texas and New Mexico. Also found in trees along rivers, and recently has become resident in suburban areas of some southwestern cities.
This strikingly patterned southwestern hawk is more sociable than most birds of prey. It is often seen in groups of three or more, the birds perching close together on poles or giant cactus. It may seem lethargic or tame when perched, allowing close approach; when hunting, however, it is dashing and powerful, pursuing prey in agile flight even through dense brush. Two or more Harris's Hawks may hunt cooperatively, working together to chase prey into the open.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Hunts actively, in low flight, pursuing prey around bushes and thickets. Often two or three hunt together, and a fleeing animal that evades one hawk may be caught by the next; larger prey is often shared by the hawks.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 1-5. Pale bluish-white, sometimes with a few brown spots. Incubation is mostly by female, 33-36 days. At nests with 2 males, both males bring food to incubating female, and take shorter turns sitting on the eggs. Young: May be brooded and fed mostly by the female, but most food is brought by the male(s). Young move out of nest to nearby perches after about 40 days, gradually develop to strong flight. Adults may raise 2-3 broods per season, and young from earlier nesting may help feed the young in later broods.


Young

May be brooded and fed mostly by the female, but most food is brought by the male(s). Young move out of nest to nearby perches after about 40 days, gradually develop to strong flight. Adults may raise 2-3 broods per season, and young from earlier nesting may help feed the young in later broods.

Diet

Small mammals, birds, lizards. Feeds on a wide variety of small creatures. Common prey includes ground squirrels, rabbits, wood rats, kangaroo rats, and many medium-sized birds, such as quail and woodpeckers. Eats large lizards when they are common. Also sometimes large insects.


Nesting

Often nests in triads, with two males mated to one female, all three adults associating peacefully at the nest and cooperating in raising the young. Courtship (involving two, three, or more birds) includes soaring, circling, and diving. Nest site is usually in small tree (such as mesquite or paloverde) or in arms of giant saguaro cactus, usually 12-25' above ground; sometimes higher on powerline tower, tall tree. Nest (built by both sexes) is bulky structure of sticks, lined with twigs and grass, with leafy twigs added throughout nesting cycle. Nest may be reused several times.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

No definite migration, although groups and individuals may wander widely, especially during times of prey shortage.

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Migration

No definite migration, although groups and individuals may wander widely, especially during times of prey shortage.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A low, harsh hissing sound.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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