Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Gray Hawk

Buteo plagiatus

Widespread and common in the tropics, this small hawk enters our area mainly in southeastern Arizona, where it is limited to cottonwood and mesquite forests along a few streams. It sometimes soars above the surrounding country, but often it perches within the branches of tall trees, where its presence may be given away by its loud whistling calls. Fast and agile in flight, the Gray Hawk may slip rapidly through the trees, plucking fast-running lizards from the branches.
Conservation status Probably no more than about 50 pairs nest north of Mexico; vulnerable to loss of lowland stream forest habitat. Still fairly common and widespread in tropics.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Wooded lowland streams. In United States, breeds only in tall trees along or near permanent streams, especially in cottonwoods, with areas of dense brush (such as mesquite) nearby. In the tropics much more widespread, found in any kind of brushy or semi-open habitat.
Widespread and common in the tropics, this small hawk enters our area mainly in southeastern Arizona, where it is limited to cottonwood and mesquite forests along a few streams. It sometimes soars above the surrounding country, but often it perches within the branches of tall trees, where its presence may be given away by its loud whistling calls. Fast and agile in flight, the Gray Hawk may slip rapidly through the trees, plucking fast-running lizards from the branches.
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Feeding Behavior

Surprisingly agile in flight, able to fly rapidly among tree limbs and dense brush, using its talons to pick off lizards or birds from the branches. May watch for prey from a perch, or may circle low over clearings or through the woods.


Eggs

Usually 2-3. Pale bluish-white, fading to white, sometimes with a few brown spots. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 32 days. Young: Apparently both parents bring food for young birds. Young may leave nest at about 6 weeks, but may return to nest for resting or sleeping for some time thereafter.


Young

Apparently both parents bring food for young birds. Young may leave nest at about 6 weeks, but may return to nest for resting or sleeping for some time thereafter.

Diet

Mostly lizards and birds. In Arizona, feeds heavily on spiny lizards (genus Sceloporus) that climb in trees; also other lizards, various small and medium-sized birds, snakes, mice, wood rats, small rabbits, ground squirrels, large insects. Diet in tropics not well known but apparently similar.


Nesting

In courtship, pairs circle high in air, calling. Male may climb high, dive steeply, then repeat, in impressive aerial display. At times both members of pair may fly high and then dive. Adults have loud whistling call, somewhat like cry of Peacock, given near nest. Nest: In Arizona, nest site is in tall tree, usually in cottonwood but sometimes in sycamore, oak, or other species. Site is usually well hidden near top of tree, 40-60' up, to over 100' at times. Nest is a small platform of sticks, including green leafy twigs, lined with leaves.

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

Migration

Mostly withdraws from Arizona in winter, but probably travels only a short distance south into Mexico; a few may linger near the border. In southern Texas, perhaps more frequent in winter than in summer.

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Migration

Mostly withdraws from Arizona in winter, but probably travels only a short distance south into Mexico; a few may linger near the border. In southern Texas, perhaps more frequent in winter than in summer.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A clear whistle, who-fleeer.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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