Photo: Erick Houli/Flickr Creative Commons

Zone-tailed Hawk

Buteo albonotatus

Seen soaring at a distance over rugged country in the southwest, the Zone-tail looks remarkably like a Turkey Vulture. It may be overlooked even by birders who are searching for it. This close resemblance may fool other creatures as well: Small animals in the west learn to ignore the abundant and harmless Turkey Vultures, and they may fail to notice an approaching Zone-tailed Hawk until it is too late.
Conservation status Uncommon and local, and has disappeared from some former nesting areas. Loss of nesting sites, such as tall cottonwoods along streams, may be a factor in declines.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat River woodlands, desert mountains, canyons. Mostly forages over open country, such as grassland, desert, chaparral, or areas with scattered trees. Seems to favor hilly or mountainous terrain, and may soar on updrafts from cliffs. Nests in very large trees, often in isolated groves along rivers, in steep canyons, or near cliffs.
Seen soaring at a distance over rugged country in the southwest, the Zone-tail looks remarkably like a Turkey Vulture. It may be overlooked even by birders who are searching for it. This close resemblance may fool other creatures as well: Small animals in the west learn to ignore the abundant and harmless Turkey Vultures, and they may fail to notice an approaching Zone-tailed Hawk until it is too late.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

In hunting, it soars and circles like a vulture, and thus may be ignored by smaller animals below. When it spots prey, it continues to circle as before, but gradually moves off to side and lower; as soon as it is screened from the prey animal by some kind of cover, the hawk turns and makes a direct, powerful attack, taking the prey by surprise. Sometimes makes steeper direct dives without this kind of stealthy approach.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1-3. White (or pale bluish-white when freshly laid), sometimes with a few spots of tan or gray. Incubation is probably by the female only, about 35 days. Young: Probably the female stays with the young during the first two weeks after they hatch, while the male brings food and female gives it to the young; later, both sexes hunt. Young are able to fly in about 6-7 weeks.


Young

Probably the female stays with the young during the first two weeks after they hatch, while the male brings food and female gives it to the young; later, both sexes hunt. Young are able to fly in about 6-7 weeks.

Diet

Mostly lizards, mammals, birds. Diet varies with location. In some areas, may specialize on certain large lizards, such as spiny lizards or collared lizards. In other areas, birds are main items in diet. Also eats many small mammals, plus some frogs, snakes, insects, centipedes.


Nesting

In breeding season, pairs may circle high in air, calling. In another display, bird flaps to high elevation while calling and then dives steeply, almost to ground. Nest site is typically in tall tree such as cottonwood or pine, along river or near cliffs; tree is often somewhat isolated and is usually among the largest in the vicinity. Nest is usually more than 30' above ground, up to 100' or higher. Sometimes nests on cliff ledges. Nest is a bulky platform of sticks, lined with green leafy twigs. Same nest site may be used for many years.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Most withdraw from United States in winter, although a few are seen in southern Texas at that season.

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Migration

Most withdraw from United States in winter, although a few are seen in southern Texas at that season.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud scream falling in pitch at the end.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Hawks and Eagles Hawk-like Birds

Zone-tailed Hawk

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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